The puck was chipped out of the John Taylor Pipers’ zone, and Christian Vallance saw he had an opening.
The Grade 12 centre pounced as soon as the Oak Park defenceman missed the puck, chased it down and came down the right side on a one-on-one. His wrist shot beat Oak Park goalie Tyler Dodd low to the far side, and gave the Pipers a 2-1 win.
The overtime goal also gave the Pipers a 2-0 series win in the final of the Winnipeg High School Hockey League’s A Division, and their first championship in 22 years.
"I just couldn’t believe it," said Vallance, who was mobbed by his teammates. "I was pretty ecstatic. It was one of the best moments of my high school career."
The Pipers were very pleased to close out the best-of-three series when they did. With two defencemen injured, they weren’t looking forward to playing another game with only four blueliners.
"It was for sure a relief to end it in Game 2," said Pipers coach Justin Steeves. "We knew we were in tough every game and we were down in numbers so we couldn’t play the style we wanted to."
John Taylor tried to keep its players fresh by playing less aggressively and picking its spots to attack. Although the Pipers were handily outshot in both games, Steeves said they did a good job keeping most of the Oak Park barrage to the outside.
The four healthy defencemen left their coach in awe as they logged huge ice time.
"When you think about it, it’s truly unbelievable what they did," Steeves said. "They were each playing half the game, and with pressure and nerves on top of it. Those guys were so composed."
The championship capped a remarkable change of fortunes for the Pipers, who went winless for more than 10 games to open last season with most of the same players on their roster. Vallance said the big difference this year was confidence.
"To be honest, last year everyone didn’t really believe in each other," said the former St. James resident who recently moved to Charleswood. "Coming into this year most of us were in Grade 12 and we stepped it up. The coaches made us believe, and we all bought into the system."
The players worked out at Focus Fitness three days a week during the summer, and came into the season in better shape.
"We said this is your last year to get to play together," Steeves said. "It’s a great opportunity. Imagine what we can do if we put in a little more effort and time."
After a week of celebration, the Pipers have their game faces back on as they attempt to win a provincial championship to go along with their city title.
Vallance said the players know how few teams have been able to win both banners, and won’t be satisfied unless they pull it off.
"It’s going to be tough," Steeves said. "Some teams that were knocked off will be pretty hungry."