The quest to conquer Canada is over.
The Prince George Spruce Kings lost the gold medal game of the 2019 National Junior ‘A’ Championship by a close score of 4-3 to the host-Brooks Bandits.
The ‘Kings end the tournament with a 4-2 record, both losses coming at the hands of Bandits.
Prince George came back from a 4-1 deficit to get within one goal of tying the contest as Nolan Welsh scored with 44 seconds left with six skaters on the ice.
The Bandits held off the Spruce Kings’ efforts in the dying seconds to become the fourth host team in the last five years to win the National Championship, their second title in six years.
“I don’t think that’s the start you want, putting yourself behind, maybe too far behind,” said Prince George Head Coach Adam Maglio in a statement following the finals. “We’re a resilient team, and we clawed and fought back and [we were] a couple bounces away from tying this up. These are momentum games, the first goal is important and [the Bandits] rode that momentum with the crowd in it. Credit it to them, they played a great game tonight, but I’m still proud of this group.”
Patrick Cozzi got the visitors within two goals after Brooks made 3-0 after the first 20 minutes, which was a power-play goal and an assist by Max Coyle.
After the bandits got that three-goal lead back to 4-1 before the end of the second period, the Spruce Kings came charging back in the final frame.
Nick Poisson kept the hot stick going with his sixth goal in as many tournament games in Brooks, slicing the lead in half at 4-2 with 9:34 to play.
Goaltender Logan Neaton was pulled with three minutes to go in an attempt to light two tying lamps before the final buzzer.
Welsh’s marker was all the Spruce Kings could muster and watched the equipment fly off the players of the host-Brooks Bandits in celebration.
THE CUP IS COMING BACK TO BROOKS! pic.twitter.com/iWrcumbmpJ— Brooks Bandits (@BrooksBandits) May 19, 2019
In his 29th straight start between the pipes for Prince George (and his last), Neaton made 25 saves on 29 shots.
On the other side, Brooks’ netminder Pierce Charleson also faced 29 shots in the gold medal match, stopping 26 of them.
Ben Brar, who scored the winning goal in Saturday’s (May 18) semi-final against Oakville, was ejected with 3:14 left in the second period on a five-minute checking from behind major and a game misconduct.
Despite coming in second place, the Spruce Kings certainly showed they have some of the best players in the entire Canadian Junior ‘A’ Hockey League (CJHL).
Defenceman Dylan Anhorn was the top scorer at Nationals with eight points in six games, including seven assists.
Poisson’s six goals scored was also the most of any other player at the 2019 tournament.
After being named the Top Goaltender prior to the playoff round, Neaton capped this week with the best goals-against-average in six games (1.51 GAA) and save-percentage (.938 SV%).
Though he didn’t face the most shots, the 20-year-old made more saves than every other crease-monkey with 121 and was one of two to record a shutout at Centennial Regional Arena (CRA).
The last three weeks since the opening face-off of the Doyle Cup series, the rivalry between Prince George and Brooks compiled a 4-4 record.
It was a season full of firsts and new records for the Spruce Kings.
This included their first B.C. Hockey League (BCHL) Fred Page Cup title and getting three straight series sweeps to win it all, their first Pacific regional trophy, a team-high 39 regular-season wins, and are 20-0 on home ice at the Rolling Mix Concrete Arena (RMCA) to start 2019.
The City of Prince George is hosting a party on Tuesday (May 21) at the Civic Centre to celebrate the Spruce Kings’ season starting at 4 p.m.