KIRKLAND LAKE - They are the champions.
The Kirkland Lake Gold Miners edged the Soo Thunderbirds 2-1 in game six of their best-of-seven Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League championship Tuesday night at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex.
Unlike Sunday’s 5-1 loss in the Soo, the Miners came out of the gates with a lot of jump and it proved to be postive right from the early going as Damon MacEachern scored less than three minutes into the frame to get K.L. on the board.
Throughout the rest of the period and through most of the second the teams traded chance just as they had during the first four games in the series.
Then with nine minutes left in the second stanza the T-Birds’ Nicolas Tassone scored to notch the game up at 1-1.
Then, with his club on a power play, the Miners Everett Thompson scored with help from MacEachern and Jeremy Picard-Fiset to give the team the lead for good.
The third period was tension filled as 1,007 people stood nervously watching the game and the clock at the same time.
Then as the seconds wound down, the crowd counted down the clock to Kirkland Lake sports history.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Miners’ Head Coach Marc Lafleur stated the veteran leadership was a huge key in claiming the championship.
“We are an older club and there is a reason for it. I wanted veteran leadership and I think, in the end, if you look at all the one goal games (in the playoffs) I think that was the major factor.”
As for the huge crowds, he simply referred to them as the seventh man.
“When I first got hired here they told me if we bring a winner to town we would really see a crowd. We saw it, not only through the last three games (but) throughout the playoffs. They really supported us. It gave us that extra push, they were kind of the seventh skater out there for us.”
Meantime League Commissioner Robert Mazzuca simply stated it was a great series.
“It was a great series, a hard fought series.”
He added the upcoming Dudley-Hewitt Cup will be very competitive and he is confident Kirkland Lake will represent the league “quite well”
As for playoff MVP Austin Rust, he described winning the award a “pleasant surprise.”
He added the key to winning game six was getting back to playing their style of hockey.
“Hitting, creating turnovers, it really helped us out. (In game five) I think we got a little complacent, we have to work for it.”
He added taking games three and four at home was a real factor in taking the series.
The Gold Miners now advance to represent the league at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canadian Jr. A championship, April 29 through May 3 in Wellington, Ont.
Joining the Gold Miners in the Dudley-Hewitt Cup will be the host Wellington Dukes along with Ontario Junior Hockey League champion Toronto Lakeshore Patriots.