The 2017 edition of the OHF’s All-Ontario Bantam AAA Championship wrapped up this past weekend, and the playoff rounds unfolded as expected. The Toronto Marlboros ran the table with a perfect record to capture the provincial title with a 2-1 win over the York-Simcoe Express, whose only losses in the tournament came at the hand of Toronto.
Heading into the championship game, the Marlboros and Express had the exact same final qualifying games.
In the first qualifier, the Marlboros were stuck in a tight game with the North Bay Trappers through two periods and went into the third deadlocked at 2-2. Finally, tournament leading goal scorer Reid Valade potted a goal that opened the floodgates for Toronto, leading them to a four-goal third period and a 6-2 win.
The second qualifier saw the Express face off against the Ottawa Jr. 67s, and once again the game was tied at 2-2 at the end of the second. And to keep the coincidental similarities going, Ty Collins, who is the tournament’s second leading goal scorer, broke the tie for the Express en route to four goals in the third period for a 6-2 win, putting them in the finals with doppelgängers Toronto Marlboros.
Ottawa and North Bay played in the secondary championship game where North Bay goalie Ben Gaudreau put on a show with a 24-save shutout to give the Trappers a 1-0 victory.
Heading into the final, Express coach Gianmarco Aiello knew they had a tough competition ahead of them, but emphasized what an accomplishment it was to be part of the finals, and beat out the rest of the province to be there.
“We faced a lot of adversity through the year and this week especially, just to get to the OHF is hard enough, and there are a lot of good teams and the boys had to battle against a lot of good players, and they did well doing it,” Coach Aiello said.
“This is an experience and going to the finals is a great one and, as well, very hard to get to. A lot of teams don’t get a chance to be in this situation and we got the opportunity.”
As for Marlboros head coach Richard Power, he too was grateful for the team’s experience, and knew even though he was coming in with a strong group, they would have to fight hard to take the crown.
“The city of Thunder Bay was a great host. The people were overly friendly and they love their hockey. I think the team enjoyed travelling to a city they had never been before and loved the hype around the tournament in a small hockey town,” Power said.
“It wasn’t easy competition there, regardless of our scores, I just thought our boys elevated their play as a team to the next level. This helped set our boys up mentally for the finals.”
The Express arrived at the championship game with a chip on their shoulder as the only loss going into the finals was an opening day 8-2 thrashing courtesy of Toronto.
They stepped up in the final and kept pace with the Marlboros until the final frame. Toronto goalie Connor Mackenzie faced 23 shots and York-Simcoe’s Alexander Imperio faced 24. The pair held the game 0-0 through the first period, and ended the match with over 20 saves each.
The second saw the most action as Kallaway Mercer opened the scoring just over a minute into the period with his fifth of the tournament. The Express answered later in the period to leave the second tied at one with a rare goal from Matthew Sudbury, who scored his second of the tournament when it mattered most.
The Marlboros came out as they did in the second, flying off the opening draw of the final period to score just over two minutes in, this time off the stick of Mckay Hayes (5G, 2A), for the game winner. York-Simcoe battled through two penalties in the third but could not find a way to get another goal past Toronto’s Mackenzie, who ended the night with 22 saves.
The Marlboros finished the tournament undefeated 8-0-0.
Power’s team has had a potent offence all year, and clearly the championship atmosphere didn’t intimidate them.
“Overall our players have always been able to push their personal and team game to the next level when it’s counted. They love playing under pressure and they just love the big games,” Power’s said. “They compete like no other group I have seen.”