Calm, cool and confident – that’s exactly how it played out as Mitchell Brown tallied two goals and two assists to propel Team BC to a resounding 7-3 victory over Team Manitoba in the opening game of the 2016 Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup Wednesday afternoon at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary.
Brown, a second round pick (29th overall) of the Tri-City Americans, registered the game-winning goal in the second period, capping off a run of three unanswered goals in the period to put his team in the win column.
“It’s really nice, but I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” Brown said with smile after the game. “Everyone gets lucky once in a while.
“It’s always good to get going, get a good roll and get off to a good start.”
A back-and-forth affair through 40 minutes of play swung in the favour of Team BC in the final period, as Manitoba was outshot 40-21 by its opponent.
“Aside from the first shift, we got out to a good start and had a 3-1 lead. At that point, we were sticking to our game plan, but we got away from it a little bit,” said Rob Smith, head coach of Team Manitoba, Wednesday evening. “Our shifts were a little too long in the second period. They did a real good job of getting pucks to the net, traffic to the net. They were going in for them today. We got behind and we couldn’t crawl our way back into the game today.”
Joshua Williams opened scoring with a dazzling solo effort only 42 seconds into the first period. Hauling the puck down left wing, Williams powered between the faceoff circles before driving the net hard and sliding the puck past a helpless Trent Miner to give BC a 1-0 lead.
“It’s always important to start early, get on the goalie, get on their team. It was real nice to put one in the back of the net early,” said Williams, a first round pick of the Medicine Hat Tigers. “I got a great pass from Ethan Leyh, took it to the net and luckily slid one in the outside post.
“We worked well as a team. Being our first game, we had some good chemistry, got pucks to the net and had an overall good game.”
It took less than two minutes for Manitoba to respond as Reece Vitelli drew the easterners even with a hot shot that found the top corner behind Jesse Makaj.
Manitoba took its first lead of the afternoon midway through the first period.
Ben McCartney took a right wing feed at the BC blueline before cutting hard to the high slot and wiring a laser to the high glove side for a 2-1 Manitoba advantage.
Moments later, Manitoba used a power play to extend its lead.
Nakodan Greyeyes parked his 6-foot-1 frame in front of Makaj and caused all kinds of trouble for the BC netminder. As a Michael Ladyman point shot made its way through the mass of humanity, Greyeyes did well to track down a juicy rebound and knock it past Makaj for a 3-1 Manitoba lead.
“I liked our pushback,” Smith said. “We come out in the first minute or two and we’re down 1-0. We get guys on the ice and there’s lots of pushback. We get one on the power play as well and maybe take control of the game there in that next 10 minutes. In the second period we got away from it a little bit.”
BC cut into the Manitoba lead after a long point shot from Jacson Alexander found its way over the shoulder of Miner to make it 3-2 late in the first period.
Another long point shot made its way through the maze and past Miner midway through the second period as Brown sent a seeing-eye single to the back of the net to tie the game 3-3.
Brown registered his second of the game late in the period to give BC its third straight goal for a 4-3 lead.
“I just saw my guy cutting to the middle and called for it,” Brown said, recounting the tally that stood as the game-winner. “I got it on the tape, shot and it went in.”
Alex Swetlikoff, Massimo Rizzo and Sasha Mutala carried over the second period energy by scoring consecutively in the third, as BC put things out of reach for Manitoba.
Team BC returns to action and will look to make it two in a row on Thursday when they take on captain Logan Barlage and Team Saskatchewan in the afternoon matinee at 3 p.m.
“They’re a great team over there,” Williams said. “We’ve just got to stick to our game plan like we did today and hopefully come up with a ‘W.’”
Team Manitoba next hits the ice on Thursday evening, facing Peyton Krebs and defending champion Team Alberta in the primetime slot at 6:30 p.m. Smith is already eager to get back to the drawing board and put Wednesday in the past.
“For one, we didn’t block shots – they got pucks through and we didn’t have a total commitment from our guys to get in those shooting lanes,” Smith said. “Getting back to just keeping [shifts] short. They were able to get fresh guys on the ice and kind of take it to us in our end.
“It’s nice to get an opportunity to get right back at it. We take lessons from this game. We liked what we saw in the first period. We take the positives from the first period and we carry those into tomorrow and we go after them tomorrow.”
The Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup has been sponsored since 2009 by the WHL and has been made possible through financial support provided by the WHL, Hockey Manitoba, BC Hockey, Hockey Alberta, Saskatchewan Hockey Association and Hockey Canada.
This marks the sixth edition of the event. The first Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup was held in Blackfalds, Alta., in 2009 and featured four of the top eight players selected at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. In 2011, the Moose Jaw Warriors and Saskatchewan Hockey Association hosted the event at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw. In 2012, the tournament returned to Alberta, hosted in Calgary at Father David Bauer Arena – home of the WHL – where it remained for two years. In 2015, the tournament was once again hosted in Calgary, but shifted to the Markin MacPhail Centre.
Team Alberta is a four-time champion of the Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup, capturing the title in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Team BC won the event in 2012, while Team Manitoba and Team Saskatchewan are still seeking the crown.