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Kenn Oliver
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Bolstered by timely power play goal, Cataracts win second Herder in four years

Grand Falls-Windsor — Buoyed by home-ice advantage, and a fortuitous power play in overtime, the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts withstood a spirited comeback effort from the Clarenville Caribous to win The Telegram Herder Memorial Trophy Championship Series Saturday night.

The Cats skated away with a 3-2 OT victory in front of a boisterous hometown crowd at the Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium, taking the best-of-seven provincial final 4-2 to win their second Herder since 2011 and 12th playing out of the former paper mill town.

The penalty early in the extra frame — a hooking call to Caribous’ defenceman Jeremy Kavanagh — was the third straight against Clarenville going back to the last eight minutes of regulation, giving a sporadic Cataracts’ power play a chance to connect.

“When it comes to the time to get into the trenches and get a job done, less is more at that point,” Cataracts coach Shane Lukinchuk said, noting his squad had been relying on more perimetre play on previous power play opportunities.

“You find a soft area of the ice, the puck comes to you and fortunately it happened to go to our best player and he was able to put it in the net.”

Newfoundland Senior Hockey League regular season MVP and leading scorer Rob Hennigar potted the winner into an open cage behind the Caribous’ netminder, Jason Churchill.

“I did put my arm in there,” Kavanagh admitted. “The way the new game is called, if you put your stick in there you run the risk of a penalty.

“I wish the whistles were put away like old time hockey, but it was a penalty and they cashed in. It’s a terrible feeling, but that’s hockey.

“When you’re watching them celebrate from the penalty box, you’re at the lowest of lows, but the guys were with me, backed me up and picked me up when I was down.”

Clarenville forward Ryan Delaney took to Twitter to voice is displeasure with overtime call by referee Ian Hollett, who also made the two third period calls.

“Game 6 #herder finals. Who calls 1 handed tripping in OT after killing off 2 penalties in last 8 min of 3rd? Way to ruin a great series.”

Indeed, both sides agreed it was a thrilling end to what could have been a otherwise anti-climactic Herder Memorial Trophy final had the Caribous not mounted a comeback at home winning Games 4 and 5 to send the series back to central Newfoundland.

“Does it feel any better because of the fact that we didn’t get swept? Yes, it has to. A sweep would have been bad for our organization.

“We knew we were a much better team than that,” said Caribous coach Ivan Hapgood.

“I don’t think there was much difference between the two teams, but you can only have one winner and when you get yourself down in a 3-0 hole, it’s like being down 3-0 in the first period of a game — everything has to go in your favour in order to come back and win that game.”

As Lukinchuk celebrated with his charges, he said the series was almost like two in one, with the shift in pace between the first three contests and the last three.

“I think that’s a huge credit to Clarenville. There’s a lot of pride in that room, they brought an effort and they pushed us hard.

“Our guys are gassed, there’s not a lot left in the tank,” he explained.

“We knew if we had to play (Sunday), it would have been difficult, so we’re fortunate we got it done here tonight.”

Being back in the confines of Joe Byrne was a factor in the Cats’ big win, as the Caribous weren’t able to make use of the Dustin Russell, Brad Crann and Mitch Oake unit that was so effective in shutting down the trio of Hennigar, Cam Fergus and Andrew Brenann in Games 4 and 5.

“Instead, Lukinchuk played his top line against Clarenville’s top line of Ryan Desrosiers, Andrew Sweetland and Dale Sullivan.

While Oake did score twice for the Caribous, it was Fergus who knotted the game at two apiece in the third, forcing the extra period.

“That’s all part of the fight and the battle and why you play every regular season game hard,” said Lukinchuk.

“You have to get in this type of situation, to have home ice. That was a big for us.”

It didn’t help that the Caribous were without veteran Keith Delaney, hobbled by a leg injury that hampered him since the semifinal series against the Mount Pearl H.J. Bartlett Electric Blades.

Hapgood lamented not having the seasoned two-way forward as a second option to cover the Hennigar line. NLSHL rookie of the year Kenny Mahoney stepped in Delaney’s place on the second line.

“Mahoney went out and did a good job for us, but to expect a young kid who hadn’t played a lot to come in and take Keith’s spot, well, we didn’t expect that.”

For some of the Cataracts, their Herder win became the first major championship in their hockey careers, including series MVP A.J. Whiffen, who emerged on the senior hockey scene three seasons ago and has since collected a regular season MVP and two goaltender of the year awards, including this season’s honour.

“This is the highlight right now,” said Whiffen, winner of the Cliff Gorman Memorial Award.

“I’ve won individual awards before, but I’ve never won a team award, so it feels really good to add that to the resume.”

It was also the first significant championship of Lukinchuk’s hockey life, as a player or coach.

Lukinchuk’s first gig out of college was with the Creston Valley Thunder Cats of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, where he was head coach and general manager until 2007. He was then recruited to be assistant coach and assistant general manager of Powell River Kings of the British Columbia Junior A Hockey League, the same circuit in which Lukinchuk plied his trade as a right-winger for the Trail Smoke Eaters, Merritt Centennials and Nanaimo Clippers from 1997 to 2001.

“To be honest, as a player I played in some good leagues, as a coach I’ve coached in good leagues, but I’ve never been fortunate to win a championship like this and to go all the way,” he said. “For me, it’s very special and it’s something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

“It’s a special group to be a part of, it’s something I haven’t ever really experienced. This isn’t just about the team or the internal people involved, this is a community thing.”

For Whiffen and defencemen Luke Gallant and teammate Rodi Short, their championship season may not be over as the trio are locks to join the Caribous when they leave for the Allan Cup national senior men’s championship Saturday.

“Seeing what they’ve done over the last four years, a couple of herder championships and that Allan Cup in 2011, they have the pedigree,” Gallant noted of his opponents turned teammates. “They have a lot of skilled guys, and a lot of gritty guys that can make up a championship team.

“I’m really looking forward to putting on that Jersey and going out and battling with them.”

 

koliver@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @telykenn

 

Organizations: Trophy Championship Series, Newfoundland Senior Hockey League, Mount Pearl H.J. Bartlett Electric Blades.Hapgood Creston

Geographic location: Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium, Newfoundland, Jersey

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