After nearly eight minutes of frantic back-and-forth action, Matthew Tkachuk (2016) cemented himself into London Knights – and Canadian Hockey League – history with an overtime goal to give the OHL franchise their second Memorial Cup.
The Knights captured the coveted junior hockey trophy with a 3-2 win over the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Co-captain Christian Dvorak (ARI) sent the game into overtime with just over four minutes left in regulation. The extra frame was a frenzied eight minutes of chance after chance before Tkachuk’s game-winning goal. It was his second of the contest.
“I came in with a toe drag shot, (my) eyes were closed, (I) saw the puck go in and I tripped over myself – the happiest I’ve ever been,” Tkachuk recalled on the ice following the game.
In seconds, Tkachuk was joined by his teammates in a pile in the corner of the rink, including goaltender Tyler Parsons (2016), who made 29 saves in the win, including a couple game-savers in overtime.
He had a great view of Tkachuk’s game winner, but in the moments following the goal, like most players on the winning side, he was unable to process the enormity of what had just happened.
“It was unbelievable,” said Parsons. “I can’t even remember that moment … All I remember was Tkachuk coming down the wing and throwing it on net – it was unreal.”
The 2015-16 Knights were blessed with star power: Mitch Marner (TOR) was named the OHL regular season and playoff MVP and was also awarded the MasterCard Memorial Cup MVP with 14 points in just four games; Dvorak, his linemate, recorded back-to-back season of more than 100 points; and there are at least five Knights that should get drafted in this June’s NHL Draft. But it was fitting that both Tkachuk and Parsons starred in Sunday’s win.
For years, Dale Hunter and the Knights have built upon the strength of their program by attracting Americans that might not otherwise be willing to play for other teams in the CHL. Tkachuk, for instance, was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 OHL Priority Selection. Parsons wasn’t drafted at all. Both will head into the draft with a high profile, with Tkachuk likely cementing a Top-5 selection.
Hunter, the team’s bench boss and architect, credited a lot of Sunday’s win to his unheralded goaltender, who rattled off 17 straight wins to end his season, dating back to the first round of the OHL playoffs.
“Parsons was good all tournament,” said Hunter. “To win a championship you’ve got to have a good goalie and luckily we do.”
Tkachuk, despite scoring the winning goal, agreed.
“Parsons keeps us in it and we were the best team in the CHL for a reason. Guys came through and we got solid goaltending.”
For a team that has dominated for such an extended stretch, it was a strange sight to see the Knights down 2-1 late into the third period. After Tkachuk’s first goal, which opened the scoring midway through the game, the Huskies answered back just 15 seconds later as Francis Perron (OTT) buried a cross-crease pass from Timo Meier (SJS). Perron outworked Olli Juolevi (2016) in front to silence the crowd as the Knights goal was being announced.
Julien Nantel (COL) finished on a cross-ice pass from Alexandre Fortin with 10:47 left in the third period to make the score 2-1 in favor of the Huskies, putting the Knights under their first bit of pressure in the tournament – the team had outscored the opposition 20-5 heading into Sunday’s final.
But Parsons, calm and collected between the pipes, stopped everything else that was thrown his way, including all four shots he faced in the extra frame.
“I couldn’t have imagined myself here; it’s insane. I can’t even describe it,” the goaltender said, struggling for words.
Even with the CHL’s most dominant line – Marner, Dvorak and Tkachuk – the Knights weren’t viewed as a favorite to be here at the beginning of the year. The team’s draft-eligible players (Victor Mete, Olli Juolevi, Cliff Pu, Max Jones, etc.) weren’t supposed to be this effective throughout the course of a full season, and goaltending was always going to be a question mark.
Yet, the 2015-16 edition of the Knights was a team that believed this was capable from the start of training camp.
“At the beginning of the year I made a comment to local news,” said Chris Martenet (DAL). “I said I think we can make a run, win the OHL Cup and the Memorial Cup. There was no reason it couldn’t have been us. We believed in this team the whole year.”
— Kathryn Jean (@msconduct) May 29, 2016
Follow Chris Roberts on Twitter via @ChrisRoberts_7