The Winnipeg Thrashers made city hockey history on Sunday, winning the 2011 Telus Cup national midget championship with a 3-1 victory over the London Jr. Knights in St. John's, N.L.
"We're the first Winnipeg team to ever do this (win a Telus Cup) so that's pretty special," said Dan Eliasson, the Thrashers head coach, who is in his first year leading the team. "There's already a silver medallist banner hanging up in Gateway Arena and now we can add the gold banner to that. It's been quite a year for a very special group of guys."
The Brandon Wheat Kings won the Telus Cup in 2004 while the 2008 Thrashers won silver.
Connor Lockhart scored the game-winning goal 1:01 into the third period and was named the player of the game for the Thrashers. Thrashers goaltender Teagan Sacher had a stellar performance in net, making 31 saves.
"We were never expecting anything like this when we started out, only three of us coming back, new coaching staff, so many new guys, so it feels pretty amazing," said Lockhart, who along with defenceman Cody Danylchuk and captain Ian Humphreys were the only returnees among 17 new players. "Before this, I had never won a winter championship. Winning the province and winning Westerns was incredible enough but there just aren't enough words to explain how much this means to me and to all of us."
After a scoreless first period, the Thrashers got on the board at 9:17 of the second period on a goal by Justin Derlago and took the 1-0 lead into the third period.
Lockhart's early third-period goal made it 2-0 and just over a minute later, forward Corey Petrash found the back of the net to lift the Thrashers to a 3-0 lead.
"Our third goal by Corey Petrash was an amazing goal. At the end of the second period, he got hit from behind and he got four or five stitches in his forehead. He was gushing blood, got stitched up and came back in the third and scored a huge goal for us," Eliasson said. "That's kind of representative of the effort that these guys have been giving all year. It showed up again today and it was exactly what we needed."
The Thrashers were outshot 32-18 in the championship game.
"It is the most incredible feeling, I probably will never have a feeling like this again in hockey. I'm just glad it happened this year with this group of guys," said forward Regan Stire.
London, the Central representative at the six-team tournament, got a goal from Cole Duberry with about six minutes left in the game but could not get anything else past Sacher.
"Teagan Sacher was just outstanding for us today and throughout the tournament, he was that quiet and steady presence for us all year," Eliasson said.
The Thrashers started the week with a 12-5 loss to the Vancouver NW Giants, the Pacific representative, which ended up being Winnipeg's only loss of the week. The Thrashers went on to post a win and three ties in the remaining round-robin games. Brendan Illchuk's goal in the second overtime period against Quebec's Lions du Lac St-Louis earned the Thrashers a 4-3 semifinal win and spot in Sunday's championship game.
"The coaching staff really helped keep us focused this week. After that first loss, it would have been easy to feel like we were in over our heads but we came out and got the win the next game," said Lockhart, referring to the 2-0 win over Quebec in the round robin. "We all knew at that point we hadn't played our best hockey in this tournament early in the week but I think we did that today."
Eliasson said he was "incredibly proud" of his players.
"I always say everyone on our coaching staff loves to win but there's no better feeling than to see a group of young guys develop over the course of the year, put so much time and effort into a program, work so hard and then get rewarded for their efforts," Eliasson said.