It’s not too often a player on the losing team of an elimination game overshadows the victors.
But that was the case at the 2019 Don Johnson Memorial Cup at Credit Union Centre in Kensington on Saturday night.
The Western Red Wings from Abram-Village pulled out a 1-0 overtime win over Nova Scotia’s Sackville Blazers. However, everybody was talking about the performance of Blazers goaltender Justin Sumarah during and after the game.
“That was one of the best goaltending displays I have seen in junior hockey in a very long time,” said Red Wings head coach Nathan DesRoches.
The 18-year-old Sumarah, who was named the tournament’s all-star goaltender on Saturday morning, turned in a stellar 60-save performance as the Red Wings outshot the Blazers 61-31, including a 17-6 margin in 13:23 of overtime. There was a full intermission at the end of regulation time, and the teams started overtime playing a 20-minute period.
The lone shot to beat Sumarah, who displayed a very cool, calm and collected demeanour throughout the game, came off the stick of Alex Morrissey. Morrissey, who was driving to the goal after carrying the puck into Sackville's end, made no mistake converting a perfect pass from Austin Taylor from the left-wing corner past the outstretched left pad of Sumarah. Calvin McRae, the Red Wings’ player of the game, also assisted on the game-winning goal.
“We haven’t been shut out all year, so it was kind of a different territory for us,” said DesRoches. “As coaches we were really preaching staying on the defensive side of the puck.
“We felt that if we took care of our end and didn’t give them a sniff the offence would come. Austin Taylor made a phenomenal pass on that goal and with the puck on the tape of the league’s leading goal-scorer, I will take my chances any day with Alex.”
The win sets up an all-P.E.I. championship game between the Red Wings and host Kensington Vipers on Sunday at 2 p.m. Kensington rallied to defeat the Moncton Vitos 6-3 in the other semifinal on Saturday afternoon.
“I thought we did a really good job sticking to the game plan and staying focused,” assessed DesRoches. “We talk about a business mentality and I thought our team did a really good job.
“It’s obviously a very big win, but it’s time to regroup and we have a really, really tough opponent (Sunday) waiting for us. We are looking forward to it.”
To further illustrate the magnitude of Sumarah’s performance, he received a thunderous standing ovation from the big crowd, including applause from the on-ice officials and the Red Wings, when he was named the Blazers’ player of the game.
“It was surreal,” said Sumarah in reacting to the fans reaction. “That’s the first time I’ve ever had an ovation. It was a great feeling.”
At the other end of the rink, Luke Oliver registered a strong 31-save effort for the Red Wings.
“You try to get your nerves down and stay focused in the game,” said Oliver in discussing what it’s like to play in a pressure-filled game with the team’s season on the line. “You just have to have faith that the boys are going to get one.”
Although Oliver was not as busy as Sumarah, he also delivered key saves when the Red Wings needed them, including a couple of game-savers in overtime.
“That is not an easy game for a goaltender to play and he saw some quality chances against him,” said DesRoches. “He’s a very focused kid, is in excellent shape and I just think he did a really good job of blocking out the noise.”
Despite the heart-breaking loss, Sumarah, who admitted the 61 shots he faced was the most he's ever faced in a single game, was very upbeat in a post-game interview with the Journal Pioneer.
“It was a great game, it was hard fought by both teams and it could have gone either way,” he added. “You just have to go one shot at a time. That’s all I do.”