The CeeBee Stars have booked their tickets to the Herder Memorial Trophy finals by knocking off the heavily-favoured Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts on March 2.
The 6-2 victory propelled the CeeBees to a 4-2 series win. It was also the third win on home ice for the team in the series.
“We won Game 1 and we felt that if we won our games at home, obviously we’d win the series, and that’s what ended up happening,” said coach Ian Moores.
The CeeBees will be returning to the Herder final for the first time since 2010.
“The boys came out tonight, they were relentless. They wanted it, same as Grand Falls wanted it last night, our boys wanted it tonight,” said Moores.
It is said that adversity builds character, and the CeeBees faced more than any team should this season, both on and off the ice. The team persevered through low attendance, a losing record, financial distress and the firing of its head coach the week before the playoffs began.
“To be as unsuccessful as we were all season, the pressure was certainly on us … and it feels like we put some of the demons to rest and we can go face off for the Herder,” said Upper Island Cove native Robert Slaney.
Slaney played a pivotal role in the deciding game. Returning from a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for Games 3 and 4, he netted two goals, including the insurance marker late in the third period.
“I came in today and I was tired and I always thought I play better when I’m tired,” he said.
CeeBees’ starter Mark Yetman had probably his finest showing as a member of the club. He made numerous big saves, including two that might’ve turned the tide in the favour of the visitors late in the third.
It was sweet redemption for Yetman, who played with the Cats last season.
“At the start of the year, I wanted to go back (to the Cataracts) and they didn’t want me, so it feels really good to knock them out,” he said.
Yetman rebounded from a less-than-stellar performance in Game 5 on Friday to backstop his club to victory.
“Our game plan was, they’re going to come out and hit us. If we hit them back, we thought they would fold the tent and luckily they did,” he said. “After the game last night, we said we were coming home, we knew the building was going to be packed and we knew we were going to take the win.”
Following a 7-2 thumping at the hands of the Cats on Friday, the CeeBees came out firing on all cylinders, with three first period tallies.
In front of a sell-out crowd at the S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace, the CeeBees opened the scoring.
With Martin LaPointe in the penalty box, the CeeBees took advantage. Nick Theriault one-timed a pass from Jordan Escott and fired a rocket just over the outstretched pad of A. J. Whiffen. Chris Sparkes had the other assist.
It did not take long for the Cataracts to strike back. While on the power play, Andrew Pearcey knocked in a loose puck to the right of Yetman. Andre Gill and Luke Gallant had assists.
The rest of the period belonged to the home team.
Halfway through the frame, Theriault drifted a shot at the net. Robert Slaney was in front to tip the puck past Whiffen. Escott had his second point of the night with the other assist.
Minutes later, Ryan Delaney took a pass from his brother, Keith, and drove for the Cataracts goal. Using a nifty toe-drag to beat a defender, Delaney fired the puck past Whiffen. Mike Dyke had the other assist.
At the beginning of the second period, the CeeBees picked up where they left off.
To the delight to the crowd, the CeeBees pinned the Cataracts in their own end for much of the first half of the middle frame.
The Cataracts pushed back, but Yetman was there to shut the door. After one stop in particular, a crowd formed in front of the CeeBees netminder. The result of which was off-setting minors to Dyke and Brandon Nicholas. Nicholas got the extra two for slashing.
On the power play, Hulit scored probably the goal of the year, undressing a Cataracts defenceman before doing the same to Whiffen. Keith Delaney and Doug O’Brien had the assists.
The CeeBees put some more pressure on the Cataracts but had nothing to show for it.
The period ended with the score 4-1 for the CeeBees.
The third started with some up-and-down action, with both goaltenders producing big saves as the teams traded scoring chances.
On one such chance, CeeBees defenceman Fred Earle put his stick in front of a puck destined for a Cataracts player in front of the net and the yawning cage that was in front of him.
In one spectacular show of athleticism, Yetman went cross-crease with his right pad and stopped a point-blank chance.
With Theriault in the box for interference, the Cataracts drew within two when Gallant rifled a shot over the glove hand of Yetman in the top corner.
However, Slaney would put the game out of reach putting a puck past Whiffen with just over two minutes remaining. Dyke had the assist.
With the Cataracts goaltender pulled, Doug O’Brien fired a puck the length of the ice to make the final 6-2 and capping probably the biggest upset in recent provincial senior hockey memory.
When the final buzzer sounded, the roof exploded off the rink. Horns blared, cow bells shook and the CeeBees leaped off the bench in celebration.
It took a game longer than they would have liked, but the CeeBees had fought their way to the finals.
The win meant a little extra for Slaney, who grew up a CeeBees fan.
“I can remember being a little boy and sitting up in the section my mom still sits in, cheering for the CeeBees every night and every weekend,” he said. “To be able to do something about getting them a Herder back in Harbour Grace is certainly a special thing for me.”
The CeeBees still have an uphill battle to climb before they can hoist the Herder Memorial Trophy. The Clarenville Caribous lay in wait.
“Here we go now, we’re going to the Herder … we’ll do our homework now and prepare for Clarenville,” said Moores.
No date has been set for the championship series.