Only one win away from their first South Eastern Manitoba Hockey League title in nine years, the Warren Mercs saw their championship aspirations dissolve in the final 10 minutes.
Jordan Valentino’s second goal of the game, a point shot past the block attempt of Mercs forward Brenden Luschinski and goaltender Curtis Beck, stood as the championship-winning goal for the Morden Redskins at 10:33 of the third period. The Redskins captured their SEMHL-leading 13th championship with a 5-3 victory over the Mercs in Game 7 of the championship series in front of a capacity crowd at Sunova Arena in Warren on March 26.
Morden captain Jay Fehr, whose team won their third title in six years, accepted the Rocky Mountain Equipment Trophy awarded to the league champions from SEMHL commissioner Tom Vatrt. First-year Redskin Mike Rey, who scored 38 points in 18 playoff games, was named the playoffs’ most valuable player.
“The guys had a slow start to their year,” Fehr said, referring to Morden losing four of their first five regular season games. “We thought our confidence was down and I think once we’ve got all the guys showing up after Christmas, we really came together as a team and had a hell of a playoff run…The guys never gave up. There were lots of momentum swings throughout the game and guys just kept pushing and kept pushing.”
“We went up against a heck of a team here in the finals,” Redskins assistant coach Kris Menard said. “You look at the playoffs, we went through the first place team, Carman (Beavers), the former champions. Then, you end up matching up against a Warren team that’s always big and strong.”
Warren head coach Gerry Minaker believes his team was both a victim of chance and their own on-ice shortcomings.
“The difference in Game 7 came down to just a couple of bounces,” he said. “Overall in the series, we just did not finish around the net and Morden did. We got lots of shots through but didn’t find the back of the net.”
Brock Genyk gave the Mercs the first lead of the game at 10:46 of the first period, but Morden equalized the score on Valentino’s marker with 19 seconds left.
The Redskins took the lead when Rey’s shot from an awkward angle found the back of Warren’s net at 13:26. A nifty passing play from Rey and Fehr allowed Tyler Grove to increase their team’s lead to 3-1 at 16:01. Less than a minute after a Mercs goal was negated due to a penalty, Mitch Hansen’s goal cut Morden’s lead in half with 57 seconds left.
Hansen tied the game with his second at 5:27 of the third period. but after Braydon MacDonald’s penalty at 8:29 gave the Redskins their only power-play of the game, Valentino scored his second. Karl Fey later sealed the championship for Morden with his marker at 15:38.
Reed Peters made 43 saves in the Redskins win, his fourth victory with over 40 saves in the series. Curtis Beck, who usually plies his trade with the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League’s Stonewall Jets, was given his first start of the playoffs and made 40 saves.
“Curtis played well. We just did not give him enough goal support,” Minaker said. “To come in and play a Game 7 is not easy, but he answered the bell and gave us every opportunity to win.”
As SEMHL champions, Morden advanced to the Hockey Manitoba Male Senior A Championship to be contested March 28 to April 6.