COCHRANE — The Crunch rallied from a three-goal deficit to score a 4-3 win over the GOJHL’s Pelham Panthers and capture the 2018 Polar Bear Classic Junior Division championship Sunday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre.
With the victory, the Crunch — who open their 2018-19 NOJHL regular season campaign on home ice against the French River Rapids Friday night — wrapped up their preseason schedule with a record of 6-0-1.
“It was pretty exciting, for sure,” said Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard.
“This is the first time in three years we have been able to win the tournament.”
The Panthers pounced on the Crunch in the first period, with Noah Caperchione scoring the first of his two goals in the contest midway through the frame.
Matt Ruigrok’s goal early in the second period allowed Pelham to expand its lead to 2-0.
Then, just under five minutes later, Caperchione struck for a shorthanded marker to expand the Panthers’ advantage to three goals.
That seemed to serve as a wake-up call for the Crunch, as Tristan Taillefer finally got the home side on the scoreboard and gave the fans at the Tim Horton Event Centre something to cheer about.
Zach Hayes added a power-play marker for the Crunch late in the second period to pull the Crunch to within one goal of their opponents.
Then, midway through the third period, Steven Cope scored an unassisted goal to get the Crunch back on even terms.
It looked like overtime might be needed to decide the contest between the two teams that battled to a 4-4 tie during round-robin play, but Hunter Buzzi’s goal with 1:52 remaining in regulation ensured that would not be necessary.
“We tied them the first time we played them, 4-4, but today (Sunday) was a different story,” Leonard said.
“Our days started off with the semi-final against French River and we had to battle back in that game. That gave us a bit of momentum, but we weren’t sure if we blew all of our gas in that game.
“Then, tonight, it was 3-0 for Pelham halfway through the second period but we were able to come back with four-straight unanswered goals.
“We had lots of opportunities and shots. We almost doubled them in shots, but they had a really solid goaltender. He made a lot of big saves, but we just kept with it. We found a way to win like we did all weekend. We were down four goals in three out of the five games we played.”
The Crunch’s first goal in the championship game proved to be the turning point.
“We kind of built momentum from there,” Leonard said.
“We had so many chances prior to that goal and we just couldn’t score. Once that first one went in, we took over the play from then on in.”
A number of Crunch players impressed their coach with their effort in Sunday’s championship game and throughout the tournament.
“Young Trevor Mayappo played really well for us today on defence,” Leonard said.
“We were happy with him and we were happy with Tristan Taillefer, as well. He had a great game.
“Steven Cope had a solid game tonight and Zach Hayes and Caleb Dolman were solid all weekend for us.
“We had a lot of guys who played some really good games, but another guy who really stood out for us was our AP (affiliate player) goalie, Carson Boutin, who we put in Saturday against French River when we were down 4-0. He shut the door and we scored eight-straight goals to allow us to come back and win 8-4.
“We rode him all the way through pretty much the rest of the weekend. We didn’t play him in the semi-final, but we played him again tonight in the final.”
Crunch 7 Rapids 6 OT
The Crunch advanced to the championship game after getting past the French River Rapids in overtime in a wild shootout in the first of two semi-final contests.
Taillefer, whose goal late in the third period had forced overtime, netted the game-winner with 18 seconds remaining in the first overtime period.
Cochrane also got goals from Alex Morawski, Ryan Mooney, Hayes, Matthew McDermitt and Jacob Stos in the contest.
Meanwhile, French River got goals from six different players — Alex Paul, Will Frustaglio, Levi Siau, Ryan Gallant, Philippe Daoust and Ryan Smith.
Panthers 3 Gold Miners 2 OT
Overtime was also required to settle the tournament’s other semi-final, with the Panthers edging the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners 3-2 at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
Caperchione’s goal with 1:14 remaining in the first overtime period lifted Pelham to the victory.
Ruigrok had a goal and two assists for the Panthers in the victory, while Lyall Shaw also found the back of the net for the victors.
The Gold Miners got power-play tallies from Hunter Foreshew and Spencer Jones in the contest.
Round-robin play saw the Crunch (2-0-1) finish first, the Panthers (2-0-1) second, the Gold Miners (1-2-0) third and the Rapids (0-3-0) fourth.