It was a heart-pounding finish for the Smithers Steelheads, with a 5-2 victory over the Williams Lake Stampeders to become the 2012 CIHL Champions, after heading into this past weekend facing elimination.
“It’s a pretty exciting feeling,” said head coach Tom DeVries. “You don’t even know what the feeling is until the clock runs out and the games over. You’re always thinking ‘ah, you never know what might happen’ and then all of a sudden you win it.”
Saturday night the Steelheads sent a clear message to their opponents; that they were a force to be reckoned with, crushing the Stampeders 8-1 to send the championship series for the SMP Cup to a third game.
This season the Steelheads dominance of the Central Interior Hockey League was unmatched. Finishing the regular season undefeated with an 18-0 record.
Sweeping through the Prince Rupert Rampage and the Terrace River Kings early in the playoffs, the Steelheads quickly set their sights on the Stampeders.
The first game against the defending CIHL champs, in Williams Lake, turned out to be the end of the Steelheads perfect record. Losing 1-0 to the Stampeders in a nail-bitter, set the tone for the rest of the series.
Returning to home ice for the final match up of the season, the Steelheads found their legs early on. Forcing the play into the Stampeders zone long enough for Randall Groot to be the first to light up the score board.
However, only a minute-and-a-half into the second period Stuart Sasges fired one in from the point, through traffic and just like that it was a 1-1 tie to start the second.
But the Steelheads weren’t going to stand aside for long. With just over 10 minutes to play in the second, the Steelheads came barrelling into Stampeders territory, crashing the net hard and sliding in their second of the night to make it 2-1.
As time was winding down, a beautiful play from Rob Miller set up a pass to Spencer Brooks, firing top corner to put the Steelheads up 3-1.
Then, with less then two minutes to go in the second Ian Smith blasted through the Stampeders defences, pounding in his second of the night on Justin Foote, taking a 4-1 lead.
But, with only 23 seconds on the board Williams Lake showed signs of life, slipping a soft one passed Mike Wall, making it 4-2 heading into the third.
But it didn’t take long for the Steelheads to put the final nail in the coffin. After Ian Smith, bearing down on Foote, scored his third goal of the night pushing their lead to 5-1 over the Stampeders.
As the clock ran out celebrations on the Steelhead bench began, marking the first time in Steelhead history they capture the CIHL Championship, walking away with the coveted SMP Cup. Also, Mike Wall, one of the decisive figures of the team this year, received the CIHL MVP award.
Coming off what became a spectacular season for the Steelheads, captain Darryl Young said after nine years it’s an extremely proud feeling to finally be CIHL champs.
“We thought we played well in Williams Lake but we just didn’t get it done, so we knew coming here we’d play a bit better at home,” he said. “So we were confident we were going to come here and win two games and we were lucky enough to do it.”