On this day back in 2019, it was one for the history books for the Swan Valley Stampeders. The team had never advanced to the Manitoba Junior Hockey League final. That changed with last year's edition of the Stampeders as they beat the Steinbach Pistons in their semi-final series in six games.
They also beat their Parkland rival Dauphin Kings in the first round of the playoffs. When it came to their series against the Pistons, Steinbach was in a decent spot going into game six despite being down in the series. That's because game 6 was played at the T.G. Smith Centre, a place where the Pistons went 24-6 in the regular season.
However, they didn't translate that regular-season success on home ice into the playoffs. They went just 2-4 on home ice which included a game 6 loss against Swan Valley that advanced the Stampeders to their first-ever league final. Barry Wolff was in his first season as Head Coach and General Manager of the team and he had this to say on the series win.
"Even the Dauphin series, that one was hard-fought and nothing was given to us," said Wolff. "Getting through that first series was big for our team and the entire community. No one really knew what would happen in that Steinbach series, but we found a way to win games and we battled through. It truly was an unbelievable series win for our group and the community."
The Stampeders looked as if they were going to roll all over Steinbach to eliminate them. After 20 minutes of play, the Stamps' had a 4-1 lead. Tanner Mole and Kyle Bettens would score for the Pistons to bring them right back into the game as it was now 4-3 for Swan Valley with just more than five minutes left. In the end, Dane Hirst sealed the game with one second left into an empty net, his first of the playoffs.
"That's the great part of the game, you play 60 minutes plus for a reason, things aren't over until the final buzzer," continued Wolff. "Steinbach is a tough place to win games. Many of our guys have never been through that type of series. Our guys learned new things every day and that was big for us to be able to hold on to that game."
Tucker Scantlebury was the hero for Swan Valley in the game. He scored two goals, one of which was the game-winner late in the first period. Those two goals gave him seven playoff goals as of that game.
"We were searching for a guy like him at the trade deadline. I knew of him before so we just waited until he became available," continued Wolff. "We knew he could add secondary scoring and he has an incredible will to win games, he was a great addition to our club and he did great things."
So the win advanced the Stampeders to their first league final and it was set to be a showdown of #1 against #2. The Portage Terriers went 46-11-2-1 in the regular season for 95 points as they clinched the top spot. Swan Valley went 42-13-3-2 for 89 points which gave them the second spot heading into the Turnbull Cup Playoffs. The Stampeders went 8-2 leading up to the finals while the Terriers swept both Waywayseecappo and Virden.
The finals turned out to be a classic and what a playoff series is all about. Both teams traded punch after punch and three games needed overtime. Including game 5 when Bradly Goethals scored his 11th playoff goal and this one came in triple overtime as the Stamps' took a 3-2 series lead.
They had the chance to win the league on Thursday, April 18 when they hosted game 6 at the Centennial Arena. However, the Terriers stayed alive with a solid 5-2 win which meant the series was going the distance with game seven set for Monday, April 22. That's when Reece Henry dashed the hearts of every Stampeder when he scored the game-winning goal, 5:26 into the first overtime as the Terriers won the MJHL.
Despite falling just short, it was the Stampeders' best season in team history and Barry Wolff classifies it as a successful one.
"I don't see how you can't. There were so many firsts throughout the year, the talent we had on this team was second to none," concluded Wolff. "Merek Pipes in net was tremendous, he saved us so many times. Of course, losing that game will forever leave a bitter taste in all of our mouths, but we battled and we left it all on the ice."
This year's edition of the Stampeders was currently up 2-1 in their series against Waywayseecappo in the first round when the season was cut short due to COVID-19. Carter Cockburn scored four goals in their final game of the season, a 10-0 win in front of their home fans.