With their home barn at MTS Iceplex packed with well over 1,000 fans, it took the Winnipeg Blues 26 seconds announce they came to the MJHL final to win.
That was 26 seconds on Sunday night, as the Blues hosted the Dauphin Kings to open the MJHL’s best-of-seven final series. Twenty-six seconds between the Blues’ eighth shot on Kings netminder Michael Stiliadis, and their ninth. Twenty-six seconds between their first goal of the game, and their second. When the Blues went on to win the opener 6-1, the second of those machine-gun markers would stand as the game-winner.
Yeah, that’s one way to make a statement.
"That’s always huge, when you can get goals back-to-back," said forward Liam Bilton, who scored the Blues’ third and fourth goals. "The first shift after you score is always the best, and to come out and get a goal, it’s good."
Well, good things come to those who work. The Kings were struggling to break out of their zone in the closing minutes of the first period, when Dauphin forward Brent Wold went off for tripping. Just 13 seconds in to their resulting power play, the Blues struck as Garret Browning popped the puck past Kings' goalie Michael Stiliadis. Ryan Bittner and Channing Bresciani picked up assists.
Then, just 26 seconds after play resumed, Taeron Lewis tapped in the Blues’ second goal, capitalizing on a Jordan McCallum rebound that came right to his stick. The fans at MTS Iceplex were still buzzing from the first score; when the second went in, they roared. "He took a shot, just low and it kicked out right to me on the side," Lewis said, as the Blues dressing room pumped victory tunes. "He did all the work. I just happened to be in the right spot."
Though that was the marker that sealed the win, the Blues would add four more. There was Bilton’s goal early in the second, a buttery one where he cut across the crease and slid the puck past Stiliadis; the home squad added three more in the third, including goals from Warren Ellis and Bresciani. Still, Blues head coach Don MacGillivray saw room for improvement.
"I thought we had lots of jump tonight," MacGillivray said. "I thought we were getting pucks into good areas, and being able to establish the forecheck. But we missed a lot of opportunities. We could have put the game away in the second period, and I thought their goalie gave them a chance to stay in the game... it’s one game, and we’re happy getting the win for sure, but we’ve got to put it behind us."
The Kings did fight to get back in the game. After only managing three shots on goal in the first, they threw nine pucks at the Blues’ net in the second. One of those went in, a Mitch Van Teeling power-play goal that would be Dauphin’s only score of the game. Justin Valentino picked up the assist.
The Blues will now take their young series lead into Dauphin, where the teams will face off on Tuesday night. As for the memory of a thumping 6-1 win, well, they’ll look to leave that back in Winnipeg. "We’ve definitely built a lot of confidence, but the biggest thing is respecting our opponents," Lewis said. "Knowing what they’re capable of. Coach told us, ‘enjoy it for the rest of the day, and clean mind coming in tomorrow because it’s gonna be a hard game on Tuesday.’ "
The Kings last won the Turnbull Trophy in 2010; the Blues not since 2006, when they were still based out of Fort Garry.