TRURO – When Jeff Walsh became the head coach of the Cumberland County Amherst Toyota Peewee AA Ramblers he told his players he wanted to create a winning culture. Now they are provincial champions.
The Ramblers scored a thrilling 5-4 overtime win over the Halifax Hawks to capture the provincial peewee AA championship at the Rath Eastlink Community Centre on Saturday, April 7.
“It’s a great feeling, I’m so happy for the boys,” Walsh said. “At the first tournament of the year, the Jordan Boyd in Bedford, we lost to Halifax 2-1 in the final. As early as that was I think that was a turning point for our boys. They felt what it was like to lose and it was evident by their work ethic in practice and in games that they didn’t want to feel that way again. After that they really bought into what we were teaching and they decided they wanted to be winners. It snowballed from there.”
After letting a 4-2 lead slip away late in the third period, the Ramblers picked up the win midway through the first overtime when Reece MacDonald carried the puck up the ice, entered the Hawks’ zone on the right side and tried to pass the puck out front to forward Burke Beed.
The puck went off a Halifax defenceman’s skate and trickled by the goaltender as the Ramblers bench emptied and the players mobbed MacDonald and goalie Phoenix Remington.
It’s the first peewee provincial championship for Cumberland County since 2002 when the Ramblers upset Sydney Mines to win the title.
Alex Herrett, Burke Beed, Ben MacDonald and Ethan Rose also scored for the Ramblers, who scored a pair of third period goals to jump out to a two-goal lead and seemed set to win the championship.
The Ramblers had some penalty problems late and the Hawks scored to pull within one on the power play with the extra attacker on the ice and then scored with less than 15 seconds to go to force overtime.
Cumberland County weathered the storm as the Hawks came close to ending it in the dying seconds of regulation time.
Walsh said his players never panicked.
“I think that came from the experiences Corey (Crocker) and I had with the Ramblers and I credit Jeff LeBlanc for a lot of this. Last year, when we were playing Pictou, Jeff talked about not letting our highs get too high and our lows getting too low. When we got to Game 7 and it went into overtime there was no panic there, and there was no panic here with our kids. They never thought they were going to lose the game, the stayed focused on what we were attempting to do. Even after they scored those two late goals the boys didn’t let up, they never panicked.”
Besides his goal, Reece MacDonald added three assists with Aidan McBurnie, Brady Stack, Kieran Sears and Burke Beed adding single assists.
The Ramblers, who won the SEDMHA tournament last weekend as well as tournaments in Dieppe and the Carters Sports Cresting Bluenose, won the conference championship two weeks ago in Amherst in similar style, building up a big lead on the West Hants Warriors only to see the visiting team rally to tie the score late with Aidan McBurnie sealing the win in the final moments of the game.
“Right from the first of the year, from our discussions with the parents and the players, we talked about creating something special this year. This was a special group of players and it was within their grasp to accomplish that, they just needed to put in the work. It wasn’t easy at times, but they got it in the end and as a coaching staff we’re extremely proud of the culture we created with the kids and the way that everyone seemed to click at the end.”
Now that the season is over, the team will celebrate by going paintballing.