The Ste. Anne Aces, who lost the first three games of the South Eastern Manitoba Hockey League final, defeated the Morden Bombers 5-3 Saturday night in front of a full house of just over 900 spectators at the Access Event Centre in the winner-take-all seventh game of the series.
“It’s hard to put it into words,” said Ste. Anne captain Erik Leefe shortly after SEMHL commissioner Tom Vatrt present the championship trophy to the veteran Aces defenseman and assistant captains Yvan Pattyn and Miguel Rondeau. “Having not played for a couple of years and some ups-and-downs throughout the season - then getting down 0-3 in this series and battling back, we had so much confidence. To see how many fans came out from the community, the community is rallying right now for a lot of reasons, and to see half our town here cheering us on, unbelievable.”
Brenden Walker had a hat trick for the Aces.
His third of the game into an empty net with 16 seconds left in regulation sealed the deal for Ste. Anne.
The Bombers held the former Brandon Wheat Kings forward to just two assists as Morden jumped out to a 3-0 series lead.
Walker record nine goals and six assists over the final four games and was named the playoff MVP.
“There’s a good team behind me too that helps me out,” remarked Walker who had 35 points on 16 goals and 19 assists in 14 playoff games. “We got fantastic players on this team and couldn’t ask for a better to team to win with. I’m so grateful for everyone here.”
Keith Grondin on the power play and Miguel Rondeau shorthanded also scored for Ste. Anne.
Rondeau explained how the team rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win the SEMHL championship.
“We got a little bit away from our game plan the first couple of games and we got back to basics and got back to discipline. We’ve got that experience to draw on. Our belief in ourselves in our dressing room never wavered. We didn’t get off to the best start, but we knew the whole time that if we played the right way, we could take these guys. It just took discipline all the way through.”
Jayden Townsend, Jory Mullin and Adam Hughesman did the goal scoring for Morden.
Trailing 3-2 midway through the third period, the Bombers were inches away from scoring the equalizer on the power play. Mike Rey beat Aces netminder Guy St. Vincent twice but hit the goal post both times.
St. Vincent finished the night with 51 saves while Morden’s Reed Peters stopped 46 shots.
Bombers coach Rylan Price was asked how much it stings to lose four straight after playing such great shutdown hockey in winning the first three games of the series.
“10 out of 10, yes it stings,” answered the Morden bench boss. “You know what though, they were able to look each other in the eye and know they left it all out there. We were very proud as an organization, of the 25 guys that we had on the roster this year. They battled hard; they gave it their all. Ste. Anne is a very good hockey team. We gave them life and they took that life, and they made the most of it.”
It’s the fifth straight championship for an Aces team that captured four consecutive Carillon Senior Hockey League titles before the league shutdown because of COVID in the spring of 2020 and has been dormant ever since.
Ste. Anne coach Kevin Lansard found it hard to explain how it felt to win the 71st SEMHL championship in their first year in the league.
“That will take some time. I don’t even know to be honest with you. This league has been around for a long time. It has a lot of history that I don’t know all of it. You’re learning as you go. We were just excited to have an opportunity to play so we’re very thankful for that because we had nowhere to play last year. We knew that for a lot of guys, this was their last year and we wanted this really bad. We want to win and the fact that they gave us a platform and to give us game seven – we’re just hoping we made the league proud.”
The Aces season isn’t over.
Ste. Anne will face the Tiger Hills Hockey League champion in the best-of-three Manitoba Senior “A” championship.
The Miniota/Elkorn C-Hawks and Minnedosa Bombers have split the first two games of the THHL’s best-of-five final.