By Derek Holtom
In the end, they were simply a team that would not be denied.
The Steinbach Pistons captured their first MJHL championship since 2013 as they edged the hometown Virden Oil Capitals 2-1 Saturday night.
The Pistons, who were eliminated by the Portage Terriers in each of the last three years – including twice in the final – rattled off four straight victories after they opened the best-of-seven championship with two losses to the Oil Capitals.
The jubilant Pistons hoisted the Turnbull Cup in Virden’s Oil Tundra & Gas Place, where only a week earlier both teams paused to reflect and honour the victims of Humboldt Broncos bus crash. Cheering them on were scores of fans from Steinbach who made the 360 km trip – including many who missed the start of the game as their fan bus was unexpectedly held up.
What turned the series around for the Pistons? Their stellar defense and top-notch netminding. As the series wore on, Steinbach became increasingly more difficult to score on. In the first three games, the Pistons allowed nine goals again. The last three games they allowed just two goals against.
The hometown Oil Capitals brought their capacity crowd to life 14:18 into the opening period, as Ben Dalke netted his eighth goal of the playoffs. But the Oil Capitals were stunned as the Pistons answered that power-play marker with two goals in the next 1:17 – Riese Gaber with his fourth of the post season, and Brendan Martin with his third.
Lead in hand, the Pistons did their best to grind out the win, keeping the potent Oil Capitals’ offense in check for the rest of the first and the second period. Virden had a late power-play opportunity in the third and pressed as hard as they could to send the game into overtime, but Steinbach netminder Matthew Thiessen stood tall, finishing with 27 saves to preserve the win. Riley McVeigh also played well in net for the Oil Capitals, turning aside 26 shots.
Captain Braden Purtill was the first to touch the Turnbull Cup, accepting it from MJHL Commissioner Kim Davis. As he hoisted it up high, his teammates, their family, friends and fans all burst into cheer, celebrating their year-long quest.
Steinbach veteran Drew Worrad also took home the playoff MOP honour, finishing the playoffs with 18 points.
The Pistons opened the MJHL playoffs with a four-game sweep over the Swan Valley Stampeders, followed by a tough 4-2 series victory over the Winnipeg Blues.
Steinbach will now await the winner of the SJHL’s championship final, which has the Nipawin Hawks holding a 3-2 series lead over the Estevan Bruins. The Pistons and the SJHL champion will face each other in the revived ANAVET Cup, with the winner advancing to the RCB Cup national championship, which will take place in Chilliwack, B.C., next month.