Eleven years to the day of their first title, the London Knights have returned to junior hockey’s summit.
Matthew Tkachuk’s snipe at the 7:49 mark of overtime on Sunday afternoon was the difference as the Knights defeated the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies by a score of 3-2 in the final game of 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Red Deer.
“As soon as it went in I thought ‘There is no way that this is happening,’” Tkachuk said. “When I saw the goalie (Chase Marchand) look up I pretty much fell over myself.”
“It’s a special feeling to win this. There’s 60 teams (in the Canadian Hockey League) and we’re the champions.”
The Knights completed one of the most dominant runs in recent memories to capture their second Memorial Cup. Following a loss in Game 5 of their opening round playoff series to the Owen Sound Attack, the Ontario Hockey League champions rattled off 17 straight wins.
“That Owen Sound series really woke us up,” Knights forward and tournament MVP Mitch Marner said. “After that, we started to play our game again and we really felt like we could win anything.
“Right from the start of the season we all really believed in each other. It’s been an amazing year and I’ve never played with a better group of guys than I have with this team.”
The Knights nearly saw their remarkable run come to an end in regulation. They were 0-for-7 on the power-play and found themselves down 2-1 with less than five minutes to go.
Christian Dvorak, who is a co-captain on the Knights with Marner, came up huge when his team needed him the most as he tied things up with 4:11 left in the third period.
“I’m not going to lie, it was nerve-wracking there for a little bit when the game was tied,” Tkachuk said. “We had a feeling though that goal would be coming and we knew a guy like Christian was going to step up.”
The final was highlighted by a sublime goaltending duel between Marchand and Tyler Parsons. Parsons turned aside 29 shots while Marchand had 30 saves in the loss.
“It was back and forth right from the start between us,” Parsons said. “Their goalie was playing great out there.
“Rouyn-Noranda’s a great team and they were the hardest team that we have faced all tournament.”
Offensively, Tkachuk had a pair of goals to lead the way for the Knights while Dvorak had a goal and an assist.
Julien Nantel and Francis Perron both scored for the Huskies, who had a gorgeous opportunity to take a two goal lead with 4:40 to go when Perron received a feed in the slot from Timo Meier but shot the puck over the net.
“Obviously it’s tough to lose like that but I’m really proud of this group and how we played,” Meier said.
“Today didn’t go our way but it’s been such a fun ride. We made history by winning the (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) title for the first time and we’re all lucky to have such a great opportunity like we have had here.”
— With files from Brad Coccimiglio