The John Taylor Pipers are a game away from hoisting a trophy that hasn't been to their school in 22 years.
The boys' high school hockey team defeated the Oak Park Raiders 3-1 at the MTS Iceplex and grabbed a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three championship final.
Game 2 of the Winnipeg High School Hockey League Platinum Promotions will be played today at 6:15 p.m. in the Winnipeg Free Press rink with Game 3, if necessary, on Friday at 4:30 p.m. in the WFP rink.
The Raiders outshot the Pipers 28-20 but were stymied by 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. 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 1990-1991 and also won it in 1987-88, which was the league's second year of existence. The Pipers are one of just seven teams to have ever won the WHSHL title in its 26 years of operation. That is due, in a large part, to the fact that the St. Paul's Crusaders, eliminated this year earlier in the playoffs by Stonewall, had won it eight of the past 10 years and 11 times in total.
Oak Park has never won it and is ready to take another shot at it today.
"Our first period today wasn't very good, we were slow starting and just didn't play the way we need to," said head coach Joel Nedecky, whose team went 1-3 this season in previous meetings with John Taylor. "In the second period, we were a lot more physical and that was the difference. We dominated the second but we just couldn't get pucks to the net the way we need to. We had 28 shots, but a lot of them were from the outside. We need to get more pucks on net and find the rebounds."
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 in a shot over the glove of Bigourdin.
Pipers head coach Justin Steeves is a Pipers alumni himself, having played from 1996-98, and has now coached the team for nine years.
"In my Grade 11 year we had a good team and lost to Ravenscourt in the semis, so this is pretty special for all of us," he said. "But this series is a long way from being over. Tomorrow, we need the same sort of will and determination that we had today. They came at us hard in the second, they were hitting us hard. We regrouped and came back with a pretty strong third. I was happy, but they (Oak Park) are well-coached and they've got a good team there. We were fortunate today, but it's a big task tomorrow for us."
Steeves said 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 six-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, who is also head coach of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League's Selkirk Steelers, said in a telephone interview on Monday. "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.
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