KITCHENER, Ontario – Helmets went airborne. Sticks and gloves scattered. Goalie Dustin Tokarski was mobbed on the north end of the ice as time expired.
After 17 years, the Memorial Cup is returning to Spokane.
The Western Hockey League champion Spokane Chiefs captured junior hockey’s most treasured piece of hardware with a 4-1 victory over the tournament host Kitchener Rangers on Sunday afternoon in front of 6,807 fans at the Kitchener Auditorium.
“It’s special because of the guys,” said Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz, who was with the franchise when it first won the Cup in 1991 and was publicly criticized when the Chiefs missed the postseason two straight years before qualifying last season.
“We had a tough time getting through what we did a few years ago,” said Speltz. “I think these guys deserve so much credit – there are so many different types of players and for the coaches to do the job they did and put it all together is just remarkable. All the challenges, all trials and tribulations – for our guys to overcome everything that they’ve had to – I’m so proud of them.”
Emotions overcame Speltz when he recalled Chiefs captain Chris Bruton predicting major success for this team at the start of the season.
“You know, he said it, and I didn’t necessarily believe him,” Speltz said with tears in his eyes. “You tell him, ‘Don’t tell me that – show me that,’ and that’s what they did.”
Judd Blackwater, Drayson Bowman, Trevor Glass and Jared Cowen – into an empty net – scored for the Chiefs, who put up a perfect 4-0 record in the tournament. Bruton finished with two assists – including one on Bowman’s game-winning goal.
Tokarski was named the Memorial Cup MVP after making 53 saves.
“This (was) our 103rd game of the year,” said Bruton, who played his final game in a Chiefs sweater and wrapped up the most successful season of his four-year career in Spokane.
“The only thing we wanted to do was win, and whatever it took we did that,” he said. “I think I’ve learned more than ever that stats are so overrated. It’s about finding your role and doing the work.”