Last hoisting the league trophy 22 years ago, the John Taylor Pipers boys high school hockey team can close the deal Tuesday night.
Potting the insurance marker into an empty net with seven seconds left on Monday, the Pipers defeated the Oak Park Raiders 3-1 at the MTS Iceplex to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Winnipeg High School Hockey League Platinum Promotions division championship final series.
Game 2 will be played Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. at the Winnipeg Free Press rink at the MTS Iceplex with game 3, if necessary, on Friday at 4:30 p.m. at the WFP rink.
The Raiders outshot the Pipers 28-20 but were stymied by Pipers’ Grade 12 goaltender Brett Bigourdin.
"We’ve been using that 22 years for motivation," said Bigourdin. "Our coaches talked to us about that and we used that for motivation in this game, for sure. We talked about how it’s been such a long time since it happened and this is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often so we’ve got to make the most of it."
John Taylor last won the WHSHL title in the 1990-91 season but also won it in 1987-88, which was the league’s second year of existence.
The Raiders were down 2-0 after the first period on Pipers’ markers by Wyatt Kemball and Nicholas Stire. Early in a penalty-filled second frame, Oak Park found the back of net as Brendan Hill snapped a shot that bounced over the glove of Bigourdin.
The John Taylor team has some Pipers’ championship history right in their own St. James-Assiniboia Hockey Academy, a licenced Hockey Canada skills academy that operates in five schools in the St. James-Assiniboia School Division for students in grades 6 to 12. One of the instructors is Ryan Smith, an educational assistant in the school division who played for John Taylor when they won the city title in 1990-91.
"I’m really excited for those guys, and being an alumni who won it, I know how much it meant to us being a small school," Smith said Monday. He is also the head coach of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Selkirk Steelers. "It’s awesome for these guys. I have been able to see most of them for the last couple of years working hard in the academy. I know they had some ups and downs last year and they’ve really been building towards this so I hope they can finish it off."
Each side was awarded a penalty shot in Monday’s game but neither scored. Oak Park’s Cole Krisko was stopped by Bigourdin in the first period while John Taylor’s Matthew Carrey shot wide in the third period.