Canadians win home tourney
Missing two of their top offensive weapons, the Fort Frances Midget ‘AA’ Canadians received a full-team effort to come out on top.
Ben Whitburn scored twice as the Canadians held off the Emo Cowboys 5-3 in the final of the seventh-annual Gus Lindberg Memorial tournament Sunday at the Ice For Kids Arena.
With Matt Deschamps hurting his neck later in the frame and missing the third period, and fellow forward Cam Dunnet out the entire game with a quad injury, it was all hands on deck for the Canadians to pull out the victory.
“The guys really stepped up,” lauded Canadians’ interim head coach Nick Wreggitt.
“Ben Whitburn really turned it up the second half of the game and Conor McManaman played terrific for a guy who we’re still trying to get a feel for,” he noted.
“He [McManaman] played a lot more minutes than he’s used to.”
Domi Allan notched the game-winner at 11:13 of the third on a stick-with-it play by McManaman.
After being denied his second goal of the game by Cowboys’ goalie Cam Croswell on a breakaway, McManaman hustled after the rebound in the corner.
He quickly centered it to Allan, who drilled the puck past Croswell to make it 4-2.
Tyler Hamm pulled the Cowboys to within one 1:09 later with a missile from just inside the blueline that zoomed over the shoulder of Canadians’ goalie Joey Onichuk.
But on their eighth power-play opportunity, the Canadians finally cashed in when Connor Botsford one-timed a rebound of Cole Mattson’s shot past a diving Croswell at 14:42 for the insurance marker.
Intensity was the buzzword on the ice and in the stands during Sunday’s final. Fans from both sides roared their support and hollered their disapproval in a penalty-filled game that saw a combined 16 power plays.
Emo’s Wade Johnson (first period) and Terrell Hyatt (third period) were handed game misconducts for harassment of an official after receiving initial penalties and then protesting the calls too vigorously.
Cole Hyatt had the only goal of the adrenalin-filled first period at 14:34.
Whitburn sandwiched second-period markers around McManaman’s backhander at the end of a mad scramble in front of the Cowboys’ net for a 3-1 lead.
Emo was unhappy about the McManaman marker—claiming one of the two referees had pushed the net off its moorings while standing behind the goal trying to get a better look at the puck in the middle from the scrum.
James Brown cut the lead to one at 17:48 of the second when he won a pitched battle along the right-wing boards and carved a path to the net before zipping the puck past Onichuk.
The tournament, which was reduced to three teams after a last-minute withdrawal by the Duluth Aviators, began with Emo surprising the Canadians 3-1 on Friday.
“Hats off to them,” Wreggitt said of the Cowboys.
“They were probably the hardest-working team in the tournament, although I think top to bottom we were a little bit asleep for that first one,” he admitted.
“We might have underestimated them going in but not after the first period.”
Robin Vien of the Cowboys and McPherson traded goals 1:43 apart to make it 1-1 after the first.
Kirk Johnson put Emo in front to stay with 39 seconds left in the second before Hamm was hauled down on a breakaway with one second left before intermission.
Hamm used a dandy deke to the backhand to score on the ensuing penalty shot against Canadians’ goalie Tyson Pitkanen.
The Cowboys couldn’t sustain the momentum on Saturday, though, as they fell 7-1 to the Sioux Lookout Warriors.
Sioux Lookout led 2-0 after the first and 5-0 after the second, with Parker McRae leading the way with a hat trick and an assist.
Wolf Bannon, Sheldon Spence, Thomas McKay, and Tyler Morris had the other goals for the Warriors while Wade Johnson had the lone marker for Emo.
Facing the Canadians immediately after Sioux Lookout proved too taxing a mission for the Cowboys, who were clobbered 11-1.
The Canadians tallied six times in the first and had the last nine goals of the game over the exhausted Emo contingent.
Alex Gustafson, Deschamps, Cam Gushulak, and Botsford each had a pair for the hosts while Kole Pitkanen, Dunnet, and McPherson added singles.
Hamm netted the lone goal for the Cowboys.
The Canadians then edged the Warriors 4-3 in a shootout later Saturday.
With Fort Frances leading 3-0 midway through the second on a pair of goals by McPherson and one by Whitburn, Sioux Lookout charged back with two goals by McRae and one by Josh Forbes.
That lead to overtime and then a shootout, with Whitburn supplying the game-winner.
Emo then nipped Sioux Lookout 5-4 that evening (goal scorers were not available by press time).
The Warriors still had a chance to make the final but lost 3-1 to the Canadians on Sunday morning to be eliminated from further contention.
After a scoreless opening stanza, McPherson netted a pair of goals exactly one minute apart in the second to give the hosts a 2-0 edge.
Blair Bresson made it close for Sioux Lookout with his goal with 10:16 left.
But a tick over two minutes later, Botsford provided some extra cushion on a set-up from Gustafson.
Wreggitt was grateful for the work done by the tournament organizers and for the spectator turnout.
“Hats off to the management and those who volunteered, as well as the fans,” he said.
“It was tough on the organizers with Duluth dropping out when they did, but we had a well-run tournament. We couldn’t do it without them.”
The Canadians head to Minnesota this weekend for the “Spirit of Duluth” tournament, which begins Friday, with Wreggitt expecting his top gun will be ready to play.
“It’s no big secret Brody [McPherson] drives the bus for us,” Wreggitt said of the team’s offensive ace.
“Thankfully, there was no separation of the shoulder.
“It sounds like it was just a quick dislocation and then it popped right back in,” he noted.
“The doctors told him to feel it out on a week-by-week basis, but he’s optimistic he’ll be back in the lineup for us for Duluth.”