KENSINGTON, P.E.I. - The Western Red Wings made franchise history Sunday afternoon.
The three-time Island Junior Hockey League champions scored a thrilling 4-3 win on Chandler Wood's goal 6:09 into overtime against the host Kensington Vipers to cap a memorable 2018-19 season by winning the 2019 Don Johnson Memorial Cup and the Abram-Village-based franchise's first-ever Atlantic junior B hockey championship before a jam-packed Credit Union Centre in Kensington.
"This is mission accomplished," said head coach Nathan DesRoches, who guided the Red Wings to an overall record of 43-5-3 (won-lost-overtime losses). "This is one of the most successful seasons maybe in P.E.I. junior hockey history.
"You look at our record in the regular season, what we were able to accomplish in the playoffs and to come into a tough barn and pull off the games that we did and the different styles that we did, is just tremendous. Kudos to the players, top to bottom, they did an excellent job."
The Red Wings' journey in the five-team regional championship was not without its challenges. The Red Wings were stymied time and time again by 18-year-old Sackville Blazers goaltender Justin Sumarah in Saturday night's semifinal. Finally, Alex Morrissey scored at 13:23 of overtime on the Red Wings' 61st shot of the night for a 1-0 win.
Then in the final, the Vipers rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the final nine minutes of the third period to tie the game with 18 seconds remaining. Again, the Red Wings found a way to come out on top.
"What can you say about the boys?," said Red Wings forward and captain Chasse Gallant, 21. "This has been a team game from start to finish.
"Both overtime goals the past two games were scored right in front of the net. That's what it takes to win championships - the grinding goals."
Vipers head coach Wade Waddell congratulated the Red Wings on winning the Atlantic title and an outstanding campaign. Western won 14 of 17 head-to-head meetings against the Vipers in regular season, playoff and Don Johnson Memorial Cup play.
"I didn't want to give them a whole lot of credit during the season because I knew we would likely be facing them at some point again," said Waddell. "They've had a great year, they have one of the better teams that has ever been assembled in this league.
"I kind of look at it like playing ourselves 10 years ago in a lot of ways. Give them a ton of credit and I hope they are enjoying it, because there is nothing like winning a championship and the Don Johnson especially is the one we had our sights on. It stings, but they earned it."
Waddell said he could not have asked for anymore from the Vipers, stressing they gave everything they possibly could in the final.
"When the chips were down we found a way to make it a hockey game again and the overtime was back and forth," said Waddell, who coached the Vipers to Atlantic titles in 2011 and 2013. "It is a special team and it just didn't have the Hollywood ending.
"I don't have that hollow feeling of losing. I feel like in a way we won with the way we played. That sounds cliché to say.
"I don't really have the words, but I want to let the boys know that I'm proud."