By John Humphrey – Special to The Tilbury Times Reporter
The Lakeshore Canadiens are your 2022 Schmalz Cup champions.
The Canadiens also did it in history-making fashion by defeating the Clarington Eagles 3-2 in overtime in the first-ever Schmalz Cup round robin tournament that concluded at the University of Guelph.
The Schmalz Cup is awarded to the Provincial Junior Hockey League’s Jr. C champions. The title captured in Guelph on May 15 was the fifth in Canadiens’ history and their first since 1995.
With the win, the Canadiens became the first team to be awarded the prestigious award since 2019 due to league shutdowns caused the past couple of seasons. The league decided heading into 2021-2022 that it wanted to play a full regular season schedule but in doing so it also had to shorten the playoff format in the spring of 2022.
As a result, after playoff champions were crowned in the PJHL, the four conference winners – the Eagles, Grimsby Peach Kings and Stayner Siskins in addition to Lakeshore – competed in the first-ever Schmaltz Cup round robin tournament that saw all teams host one home game. Competition then moved to the University of Guelph last week where all clubs played their final round-robin game before they were seeded and the semi-final and final games were determined.
Days after defeating the Eagles, the realization of his team’s accomplishment was finally starting to register with Canadiens long-time general manager Mark Seguin.
“It is starting to sink in now. It was so chaotic after the game with all the text messages and phone calls that it took me a couple of days to get caught up with everyone,” he admitted. “I personally had over 100 text messages in addition to I don’t know how many phone calls.”
The Canadiens’ march to the Schmalz Cup title started with a win on the road over the Grimsby Peach Kings.
“The first half of the game and while things were intense, it was also a feeling-out process for both teams,” Seguin recalled. “But in the second half of the game we finally found our skating legs and we managed to pull off a 3-2 which was huge for us to start off the round robin because it is never easy to go into that rink (Grimsby Peach Kings Centre) and win.
“That game really boosted our confidence and the next night we came home to play Stayner. We played very well and we jumped on them early and we scored the first four goals of the game on our way to a 5-1 win,” he continued. “When we score early in a game, we are a very difficult team to play against.
“Our guys always seem to get stronger as the game progresses when we go up early.”
After starting out the first of two weekends of the inaugural Schmalz Cup tournament with a pair of wins, the Canadiens took a couple of days off to re-charge before heading to Guelph to complete the round-robin portion of the tournament and they turned in one of the worst performances of the entire 2021-2022 seasons in a 4-1 loss to the Clarington Eagles.
Seguin did not mince words in his evaluation of his team’s play in that game.
“Clarington was by far the best team that we had played all season. They were ready and waiting for us and they really took it to us,” he admitted candidly. “The final score of the game flattered us because it was never that close.”
Despite the loss, the Canadiens were awarded the top seed heading into the tournament’s two play-of games to be played on the weekend. Although Lakeshore and Clarington had identical 2-1 records after the round robin portion of the event, the Canadiens had the top spot due to a better goal differential.
Lakeshore played their semi-final game on Saturday (May14) against the Peach Kings and emerged with a convincing 5-0 win to send them into the Schmalz Cup championship game the next day against an opponent that still had to be determined.
“After our game we all went out and had a team dinner before heading back to the hotel and watching the Leafs lose and get eliminated,” recalled Seguin.
The Canadiens ended up having a rematch with Clarington in the Schmalz Cup final.
“Both teams were highly motivated and focused and we both emptied our tanks, so-to-speak,” Seguin claimed, matter-of-factly.” It ended up being one of the best games that we’ve ever played since I have been involved with the Canadiens.
“It was just a great, great game,” he continued about Lakeshore’s thrilling 3-2 win in overtime.
The Canadiens were awarded two penalty shots in the game – a rarity for any game, let alone a championship contest.
While Bryce Scarlett did not score on his second period opportunity, Jake Nimmo did score on his in the third frame of the game.
Both players were awarded penalty shots after being hauled down on clear-cut breakaways.
“There was no question that those were the right calls by the referee both times,” Seguin said. “The other team did not argue at all.”
The back-and-firth title game saw the Canadiens twice take the lead in the game, only to have the Eagles reply both times. Trevor Larue opened the scoring in the first period before Nimmo re-staked Lakeshore to go up again on his penalty shot goal in the third period. With the score tied 2-2 after regulation play, the teams headed to overtime where Canadiens team captain and Lakeshore native Dylan Weston scored just 41 seconds into extra time to give Lakeshore the Schmalz Cup.
“Dylan started overtime and proceeded to make an unbelievable play and scored on the first shift in overtime,” Seguin offered.” It was pandemonium for us right away.”
Romano Liburdi backstopped the Canadiens to their historic win by making 30 saves.
Having lost to the Eagles, especially in convincing fashion, just few days earlier gave the Canadiens extra motivation and focus heading into the rematch in the championship game, claimed Seguin.
“You never want to say that it is a good thing to lose a game but sometimes you are going to lose and losing in the way in the way that we did gave our kids a kick in the butt that they might have needed,” he admitted. “At least that’s the way things ended up.”
In the big picture, there was no shortage of reasons for the success that the Lakeshore Canadiens experienced this season.
“I never had one problem come across my desk all season long, starting with training camp and ending with the Schmalz Cup championship game. There were no issues to address with players, coaches and management either at the rink or away from it,” offered Seguin. ”We had to deal with the pandemic, obviously, but so does everybody this year and the past couple of years.
“We did not have any distractions at all,” he continued. “That was huge for us all and allowed us to focus on the right things.”
Two other major reasons for the Canadiens’ ultimate success were identified shortly after the tournament ended in Guelph. Canadiens’ head coach, Anthony Iaquinta, was named the PJHL Coach of the Year and Dylan Weston was named as the PJHL’s Playoff MVP.
And don’t expect that the 2022-2023 PJHL season will be a rebuilding one for the Lakeshore Canadiens. This team doesn’t rebuild. They reload.
“We have 18 or 19 players who are eligible to come back to us next season but not all of them will because some guys will move up to play junior b next season while others might have opportunities to play elsewhere.
“Some people might end up focusing on school or work too,” Seguin offered. “We will have a few open roster spots next season but there’s already been a lot of interest in playing for us.”
The Canadiens’ mini-camp that is being held at the Atlas Tube Centre June3-4 is fully booked, forcing Seguin to having to book another one sometime in August. That one will likely fill up quickly as well.
Two local events have planned so far to honour the 2022 Schmalz Cup champions from Lakeshore. The Canadiens will be attending game five (if necessary) of the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference championship series between the Windsor Spitfires and the Flint Firebirds at the WFCU Centre on May 29 (Sunday) but that night’s activities have yet to be finalized. And after Seguin received a phone call from Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain, the Canadiens will be on the first float of the Canada Day parade in Lakeshore.
It’s certainly appropriate for the Lakeshore Canadiens to be out in front.