(This article was originally published on July 22, 2020)
It’s been eleven years since the Grizzlies hosted the 2009 Royal Bank Cup (now the Centennial Cup), junior A hockey’s national championship. Although the host Grizzlies didn’t win the tournament, it is often forgotten that they were only one goal away from playing in the final against the BCHL and Doyle Cup champion Vernon Vipers.
The tournament featured five teams: the host Grizzlies, the Vipers representing the Pacific region, the Kingston Voyageurs representing the Central region, the Humboldt Broncos representing the Western region, and the Summerside Western Capitals representing the Eastern region.
The Vipers won the national championship after finishing the regular season with 86 points, good for first in the BCHL. They also claimed the Fred Page Cup as BCHL champions and the Doyle Cup as Pacific region champions to qualify for the RBC Cup.
Round robin play
The tournament kicked off with the host Grizzlies taking on the Broncos, who were Avanet Cup winners from the Western region. It was an extremely close game with the Grizz falling 2-1 in the tournament opener, only being outshot 35-34.
For day two, the Grizzlies won in convincing fashion over Kingston 5-0. That same day, Vernon beat Summerside 4-2. The Grizzlies didn’t play on day three, but Kingston edged Summerside 7-5 and Vernon thumped Humboldt 7-1.
— BCHL (@BCHockeyLeague) March 17, 2015
Day four saw the Grizzlies take on their familiar BCHL foes from Vernon, including future NHL netminder. Andrew Hammond. He was brilliant for the Vipers in 2008-09 and earned the BCHL goaltender of the year award after posting 27 wins and a .912 save percentage.
In the first period of this game, the Vipers struck first on a goal from Chris Cowell on the powerplay. In the second period, the Grizz struck back 2:41 into the period, courtesy of Cody Bremner. Four minutes later the Vipers retook the lead to make it 2-1. About five minutes later, captain Brian Nugent tied the game at two and within three minutes the Grizzlies scored two more unanswered goals to take a 4-2 lead into the third period.
The Grizzlies were twenty minutes away from knocking off the tournament favourites, but the Vipers wouldn’t go without a fight. Six minutes into the third, Kellen Jones brought Vernon within one. With just over two minutes to go, Mike Collins scored the equalizer for the Vipers, and the game headed to overtime.
Nine minutes into OT, Cole Ikkala broke the hearts of the Victoria crowd with the game-winner for Vernon and a 5-4 victory for the Vipers. The players of the game were Nugent for the Grizzlies and Ikkala for the Snakes.
The next day of the tournament had two games. The first was between Humboldt and Kingston, which the Broncos won convincingly 5-2. The second game featured Victoria and Summerside, with the Grizzlies rebounding well after the Vernon loss with a 6-3 victory over the Capitals.
The final day of the round-robin also had two games. The first game between the Vipers and Voyageurs was a relatively easy one for Vernon, ending the round-robin with an 8-5 win. The second match of the day was most likely be the shocker of the entire tournament with Summerside blanking Humboldt 5-0 and outshooting the Broncos 35-18. After the final day, the stage was set for the semi-final with the standings as followed below.
The first game of the semifinals was between Vernon and the Kingston Voyageurs. The first period went well for the Vipers, opening with three goals, including two on the powerplay, to make it 3-0 after the first twenty. In the second frame, the Vipers added two more to make it 5-0 heading into the third period. Kingston scored three goals in the third but it wasn’t enough for the comeback as Vernon held on to win 6-3 and move on to the finals.
The second game featured the host Grizzlies and the Humboldt Broncos. The first period went well for the Grizzlies with a goal from Derek Lee to make it 1-0 for Victoria. The second period was a low scoring one, with only one goal for the Broncos from Matthew Kirzinger to tie the game at one going into the third.
The third period was low scoring too, with each team scoring once. The score was tied 2-2 after regulation and the game required overtime. It was a back and forth OT for both teams but with 2.3 seconds left Shawn Hunter scored for the Broncos to move on to the finals, devastating the Victoria crowd, and ending the Grizzlies season.
Finals and award winners
The results of the two semifinal games set up a championship game between the Vernon Vipers and the Humboldt Broncos, who were the tournament’s two top teams in the round robin.
The first period of the championship game was scoreless as Hammond made nine saves and Mathieu Larochelle of Humboldt made twelve saves.
Twelve minutes into the second period, the game saw its first goal, scored by Braden Pimm on the powerplay to make it 1-0.
In the third period, Kyle Bigos added to the Vipers lead on their deadly powerplay. Hammond posted a 27-save shutout as the Vipers hung on to capture the 2009 RBC Cup. Player of the Game honors was given to the goaltenders, Hammond for Vernon and Larochelle for Humboldt.
Many players impressed at the 2009 RBC Cup and earned tournament awards.
- Tournament MVP: Kyle Bigos (Vernon Vipers)
- Top Forward: Connor Jones (Vernon Vipers)
- Top Defenceman: Kyle Bigos (Vernon Vipers)
- Top Goaltender: Anthony Grieco (Victoria Grizzlies)
- Tubby Smaltz Trophy (Sportsmanship): Ryan Santana (Vernon Vipers)
Although the Grizzlies didn’t reach the ultimate goal of winning a national championship, they did many impressive things during the tournament.
Being one goal away from the championship game is painful, but as time goes on, the experience can be remembered as a good memory of the Grizzlies organization being that close to a national championship.