The first of three gold-medal games of this past weekend's S&P Invitational Atom Hockey Tournament turned out to be the most exciting.
After finishing the round robin with a 2-1 record, the Gander C Atom Flyers advanced to Sunday's gold-medal game against the Clarenville Caribous, who also finished the round robin at 2-1, and was the only team to defeat the Flyers during the round robin.
The Clarenville squad took down the Gander team 7-2 in the round robin, but the championship game was a lot closer and a lot more dramatic.
After Noah Hamlyn opened the scoring for the Flyers in the first period of Sunday's gold-medal contest, the Caribous replied with two second-period goals to take a 2-1 lead. Midway through the third period, Bradley George tied the game, and then Riley Winsor provided the dramatics.
With 5:27 left in regulation, Winsor took a pass from Michael Coxon and went one-on-one with caribous' goalie Jayden Harris.
With the crowd waiting in anticipation, Winsor beat Harris with a low shot to score the eventual game-winning goal for the hometown Flyers.
"I was thinking, I need to see what his weakness is and how to get around him," said Winsor, when asked what was going through his mind during the breakaway attempt. "After the puck went in, all I'm thinking is, ‘Yeah, we scored! If nobody else scores, we're going to win it.'"
Team captain Alex Pollett was one of the 20-plus players who jumped over the boards and on to the ice when the horn sounded to celebrate the win.
Even when the Flyers started the third period down a goal, Pollett said he was confident the Flyers would still win the game - despite how nervous he was feeling.
"It feels really good. I'm really proud of the way everybody played this weekend," said the captain. "I was positive and slightly nervous at the same time (during the third period). Anything could happen at any time, like one of our passes could have been intercepted. However, it turned out to be a really good game, and I'm happy with that."
The Caribous didn't tie the game, the Flyers never made the errand pass, and the hometown team celebrated with their trophy after the game with parents and coaching staff looking on from inside a rocking dressing room.
As the players left the dressing room to watch the B Flyers play for their gold, head coach Darryl Murphy talked about the victory, and emphasized how the entire team worked together to pull off the gold-medal win.
"The children performed really well in the gold-medal game. The players tried really hard, they skated really hard, and they worked on a few different passing plays," said Murphy. "It was good to see.
"It was a very exciting gold-medal game," added Murphy. "The team played really well together, and they were co-ordinating really well while on the ice."
The C team was one of three Gander-based teams that played for a gold medal on Sunday. If not for Gander Minor Hockey's atom house league, that feat probably wouldn't have been possible, according to Murphy.
"The house league program in Gander is really well organized," said Murphy. "They practice a lot of fundamental skills and do a lot of game play, so I have to take my hat off to the house league organizers."
Thanks to a successful house league, and some last period dramatics, the Flyers captured the elusive gold medal, one player Tyler Blake will remember for a while.
"It feels really good...I'm still really excited," said Blake. "To win the gold here in Gander was really nice, because everyone gets to see it."
Along with the Flyers, the Glovertown Tornadoes also competed at this past weekend's hockey tournament.
The Tornadoes went 1-1-1 at the event, and defeated the Exploits Cataracts of Grand Falls-Windsor in the third-place game 2-1 following a shootout.
The Tornadoes opened the tournament against the eventual champions from Gander, but came out on the wrong end of a 4-2 game. Riley Paul and Josh Bull scored for the Tornadoes.
In their second game against the Cataracts, Paul and Bull scored singles in the second to give the Tornadoes a 0-1-1 record following a 2-2 tie.
In their final round-robin game, the Tornadoes defeated the eventual silver medallists from Clarenville. The Caribous were a perfect 2-0 coming into the game, while the Tornadoes were looking for their first win. The Caribous struck first early in the first period, but thanks to strong goaltending from Draydan Ralph, the Caribous could score no more. Nathan Smart tied the game with his goal in the second period, and Bull scored his third of the tournament in the third period, as the Tornadoes held on for a 2-1 win.
In the third-place game against the Cataracts, Paul scored the lone Tornadoes goal, and both teams prepared for a shootout following a tied 1-1 game. Paul, after tying the game in the second, scored the first shootout goal, and Travis Warfield scored the second, which gave the Tornadoes the 2-1 shootout win.