The Melfort Mustangs advanced to the RBC Cup for the first time since 1996, after defeating the Fort McMurray Oil Barons 4-2 on Saturday afternoon.
With the win, the Mustangs can finish no worse than third at the tournament, and with the RBC host Portage Terriers having advanced to the WCC final, the top 3 teams at the tournament were guaranteed national tournament berths.
The Mustangs sought to rebound from a 3-2 overtime loss to Fort McMurray in their final round robin stage game on Thursday night – a game in which Melfort never trailed until the final goal. The Mustangs would never trail in this game.
Just under halfway through the first period, a wrist shot by Cole Hyrsky deflected off the stick of Adam Fauchoux in front of the Barons net and past starting goaltender Zach Fortin to give the Mustangs an early lead. Despite protestations from the home side, the officials determined Fauchoux's stick was just below the crossbar on the deflection, a conclusion backed up by video evidence.
But less than five minutes later, the Oil Barons responded after a Mustang cross-checking penalty sent Fort McMurray to its first power play. Off a rush, Trent Lofthouse feathered a pass in front to Thursday's overtime hero Mitch Vanderlaan, for a net-front tip that slid past Richard Palmer for a 1-1 tie game.
The second period, however, would be the difference for Melfort as the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League champions scored twice in the back half of the middle frame.
First, Hyrsky notched his second point of the afternoon on a screened wrist shot from the right-wing faceoff circle to reclaim a Melfort lead. Then, on a Mustang power play, a net front scramble saw Eric Sinclair skate in from the ringette line and tap a loose puck into the Fort McMurray net for the eventual game-winning goal.
The Oil Barons would mount one final comeback effort in the third, however, as a Mark Drohan point shot was tipped home by rookie forward Austin Holmes with just under two minutes left to pull the Barons to within one.
But with just under a minute to play, the Mustangs successfully cleared the puck, and a two-on-one emerged in which Sinclair found Tristan Frei in front of an empty MOB net to seal the deal and send the travelling Melfort fans in attendance into jubilation at the end to the near-20 year drought for the Mustangs appearing at a national championship.
Melfort returns to the RBC Cup for the first time since current head coach Trevor Blevins was a player on that very same team. They will take on the loser of the WCC Final in the tournament runner-up game on Sunday at 4:00 PM.