Vernon’s Man of Steel punctuated a super showing at the 45th annual Vernon Coca-Cola Classic Pee Wee Hockey Tournament.
Steel Quiring’s third goal of the game – a powerplay laser slapshot inside the far post past goalie Daniel May – at 17:39 of the third period secured a Vernon Watkin Motors Mustangs’ 5-3 win over the Idaho Jr. Steelheads in the Amy Myles Trophy A event final before a large crowd at Civic Arena Sunday night.
The goal – Quiring’s 15th of the tournament – resulted in an array of baseball hats littering the ice to acknowledge the hat trick.
“It’s awesome to win this at home,” smiled Quiring outside the Mustangs’ dressing room. “We started out good, flattened out, then came back in the third period. We didn’t panic, well, not really. We worked hard and there maybe was some stress but we had it under control. We had a lot of respect for Idaho.”
It was the first win in the A final for a Mustangs team since 2008, and seventh overall championship by a Vernon entry in 11 final appearances.
The Steelheads were the third American team to appear in the final.
For the second straight game, the Mustangs overcame penalty issues and a gritty American opponent.
Trailing 3-2 heading into the third, Quiring tied the game 3:30 into the frame, getting a shot through Mays’ legs.
Defenceman Connor Elliott scored the winner less than two minutes later, beating the Steelheads defensive pair through the middle, going in alone on May and roofing a backhander over the goalie’s glove.
The Steelheads – the only team to keep Quiring from scoring in the tournament during a 6-3 preliminary loss Thursday – opened the scoring on a breakaway goal from Jackson Howell at 7:56 of the first.
The Mustangs responded five minutes later on a breakaway goal from Jakob Jones, then took the lead on what may have been Quiring’s best goal of the tournament: a shorthanded effort with his team killing a five-on-three at 16:27.
Quiring dipsy-doodled past three Steelheads before going bar down with a shot over May.
Idaho defenceman Makhai Sparks got a breakaway goal 58 seconds into the middle frame to tie the contest. That’s when a lack of discipline hurt the Mustangs.
Vernon was whistled for five straight minor penalties through the middle portion, and the Steelheads capitalized at the very end of a five-on-three when Calvin Osterberger deflected a Howell shot off Mustang goalie Cayden Hamming’s shoulder and into the net to give Idaho a 3-2 lead, much to the delight of their American brethren, the Alaska Fairbanks Arctic Lions.
The Lions were rooting for Idaho with cheers of “USA-USA-USA,” “LET’S GO STEELHEADS” and “MULLET,” an homage to May’s long blond hair which, according to Idaho parents, May would have to cut into the unfortunate hair style if the Steelheads lost the game.
The Steelheads looked to have made it 4-2 at 15:57 when a shot dribbled through Hamming and rolled across the line, a split second after the whistle had blown.
“It was a good game,” said Osterberger, a Chicago Black Hawks fan. “We played well the whole game. It was a battle. Vernon’s a good team. They got us in the third with a couple of good goals.”
Hamming, who was given the hook after allowing four goals in Saturday’s 10-4 semifinal win over the Lions, bounced back big time Sunday, saving his best to keep it 4-3 with a pad stop on a powerplay deflection.
“Cayden has a really strong will to compete,” said Mustangs’ head coach Wes Elliott. “We just told him tomorrow’s another day, some days are like that as a goalie, be ready to go and he was.”
The Steelheads, 6-2 winners over the St. Albert Sabres in Saturday’s other semi, have made five tournament finals this year. They won at home and in Portland, and finished second in Vernon, Kelowna and Las Vegas.
“It was a great environment tonight in a high-stakes game,” said Osterberger. “It was a great tournament, we had a ton of fun here. The crowd was fun and there was great hospitality.”
May and Hamming were outstanding throughout the game, May sparking the MULLET cheer from the Lions when he stoned Emma Elders in close with Vernon still ahead by one.
The Lions won the Alex Kuly Trophy B final with a 7-4 decision over the St. Albert Sabres, bagging two empty net goals in the final 3:15.
Dylan Mowery scored the winner at 7:50 of the third as the Nelson Leafs edged the Dawson Creek Canucks 4-3 in the Mickey McMahon Trophy C final.
Kailer Hulse connected 4:38 into overtime to give the Calgary Glenlake Hawks a 4-3 win over the Fort St. John Hawks in the Mickey Ogasawara Trophy D final.
The Hawks won the Dan Oxnard Trophy as the most sportsmanlike team while Arctic Lions bench boss Mike VanSickle was the winner of the Ernie Kowal coach’s award.