There was a shocked silence in the Elgar Petersen Arena on Saturday night.
For a few seconds, no one could believe what had happened.
The Humboldt Broncos had been eliminated from RBC Cup play by the Woodstock Slammers; a puck that almost flew over the top of the net didn’t. It went in. And the Slammers won just 35 seconds into sudden-death overtime.
Humboldt had started off the game in the driver’s seat, though they lost forward Emrik Guillemette, one of their strongest players at the tournament, to an injury early in the first period.
Ryan Marshall got the first goal of the game on a power play at 17:52 of the first period. Andrew Johnston and Andrew Herle got the assists.
The first goal was followed by a second, another power-play point, at 19:21, scored by John Lawrence.
This despite some questionable officiating that started in the first period — both teams were boxed for interference on goaltender, but there was a very late whistle for the Woodstock penalty at 18:28. Though Humboldt’s goalie Matt Hrynkiw had his helmet knocked off, and the referee indicated a penalty right away, play continued around his net for quite a few seconds before the whistle was finally blown.
Things got worse in the second period.
Woodstock was able to tie things up with goals at 4:44 and 9:27 — the second on a power play.
With just over three minutes left in the period, the Broncos put the puck past netminder Matt Murphy, but the goal was waived off by the referee. A video replay later showed that there was, indeed, a goal.
Humboldt regrouped and scored a go-ahead goal — this one not disputed by the referee — at 18:47. Logan Sproule got the point, and the assists went to Marshall and Johnston.
In the third, Humboldt’s Nathan Hudema was kicked out of the game for checking to the head at 4:24.
That resulted in a five-minute power play for the Slammers, which they capitalized on. Sam Caldwell got the tying goal for his team at 6:24.
The game went into overtime.
Despite coming out strong, the Broncos let play get into their end. A mis-step by Hrynkiw left the net open, and Ben McSwain of the Slammers was right there to chuck it right under the crossbar.
While the Slammers celebrated moving onto the final, the Broncos sat where they were, in disbelief.
Though they had outshot the Slammers 43 to 24 over four periods, and had beaten them 4-1 in the first game of the RBC Cup, they had fallen to them by a score of 4-3.
Gathering together around Hrynkiw, the Broncos slowly made their way to centre ice for the Player of the Game awards. Marshall was named for the Broncos.
As they skated off the ice, after shaking hands with the Slammers, the fans gave them a round of cheers and applause.
After the game, down in the media centre, Slammers head coach Jason Tatarnic appeared satisfied with the win.
“All five teams are very skilled hockey teams. If we could make it to the semis, we thought we could make it to the finals,” he told reporters.
This has been a long tournament for his team, he indicated. They’d been on the road for two and a half weeks, and were mentally fatigued there for a while, he said, when explaining their loss to Humboldt in the first game.
Tatarnic was actually the assistant coach in Humboldt in 2004-05 — Dean Brockman’s first season as head coach of the team. Tatarnic had also played in the SJHL when he was younger.
“As an alumnus of the league, it’s always something special to come back to Saskatchewan,” he said when asked about how it felt to win in Humboldt.
“You hate to beat a friend like that,” he added. “Dean is an excellent coach... it is kind of special (winning here).”
It took a while for Humboldt’s players to make it out of the dressing room, where their head coach was speaking to them.
Team captain Taylor Johnson was one of the first to emerge.
His eyes red, and emotion still raw on his face, Johnson shook his head when asked to put what he was feeling into words.
“I can’t really put it into words,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for the guys (on the team). We wanted a national championships. We came up short this year. It’s the saddest time.”
Woodstock, he said, came out with intensity, while the Broncos went into the game thinking it would be a cakewalk.
“ It’s a national championship, we can’t come out soft,” he stated. “We played a bad second period, and you can’t play one bad period.”
As a 20-year-old, this was Johnson’s last year with the Broncos.
“I’m happy to do all my junior career with these guys. It’s something I’ll never forget,” he said.
But it was clear it would take some time to get over the sudden loss.
“The sting of losing is going to last for a long time,” he said.
Johnson, Guillemette, Marshall, Johnston, Robbie Ciolfi, Taylor Duzan, Andrew Herle, Brett Pisio, Jonathan Parisien, Mathew Backhouse and Chase Wharton all graduate from the team this year.
Brockman, when faced with questions from reporters, was no-nonsense.
The team was under pressure to win, he agreed, but Brockman offered no excuses for the loss.
“They won, we lost. Somehow we’ve got to find a way to move forward..... It is what it is.”
They felt okay going into the game, the guys were fairly loose, he said.
“For the most part, we were ready to go.”
In OT, “we were obviously tired and exhausted. Our guys did what they could do.”
He had nothing but praise for the play of his team this season.
“From where we came from, I don’t think many gave us a chance. I’m really proud of these guys.”
In the dressing room, he told his team that he wished he could take away their pain and hurt, and that he hoped they learned valuable lessons to take forward in life.
“They’re going to be Broncos for a long time,” he said.
When speaking to the Journal, Brockman was a bit more candid.
“I just thought we deserved a better fate,” he said. “Our guys played their hearts out for us. I’m really proud of them. You hope they get a valuable lesson they need to carry on with life.”
The officiating, he added, “was clearly off, and not very good. The people here seen that.... The officials have to be the best players on the ice, and they weren’t today.”