May 28, 2018
by Greg Harder, Regina Leader Post
It took 100 years, but history repeated itself for the Regina Pats.
One full century after losing in the very first Memorial Cup final to the University of Toronto Schools, the Pats were back where they started on Sunday night, dropping a 3-0 heartbreaker to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan before 6,484 fans at the sold-out Brandt Centre.
It’s the first-ever CHL title for the Titan while Regina was denied its fifth — and the first since 1974.
“This is probably the worst feeling I’ve ever had in sports,” said goaltender Max Paddock after his heroic 41-save effort in a losing cause.
“We came so close and gave it all we had. It’s tough to see not only once but twice in the last year. We had to go through seeing a team win on your home ice (in the 2017 league final against Seattle). Then this year to see it happen again, it just sucks.””
On the opposite end of the spectrum was Titan defenceman Adam Holwell, who celebrated with his team Sunday after scoring the eventual game-winner with 3:50 left in the first period.
In the process, he broke the hearts of an entire city.
“It’s tough to see because they did such a great job here of setting up the tournament,” said Holwell. “It has been the best experience of my life. It’s tough to break their hearts but we came in to win and that’s what we did.”
The speedy Titan did it with a dominant performance that left little doubt which team deserved to be crowned CHL champion. Regina wouldn’t have been in the game if not for Paddock, who was able to keep it close until late in the third period.
“Acadie-Bathurst is full marks for the win,” said Pats head coach/GM John Paddock. “We needed a second puck on the ice because, for two periods, they wouldn’t let us have it. It’s tough to win (like that).”
If the Pats wanted some help from the officiating, that didn’t happen either. Acadie-Bathurst wasn’t penalized until the last five minutes of the third period, ensuring that Regina’s vaunted power play was a non-factor.
“When you don’t have the puck, you’re never going to draw a penalty,” said John Paddock, whose team somehow managed to limit the damage despite being under siege for much of the first two periods. “I think that was the most shots we’ve blocked, ever. That’s probably a month’s worth of shots blocked in the regular season.”
Acadie-Bathurst had four days off after earning a bye to the Memorial Cup final, but there was no sign of rust early in Sunday’s contest.
The visitors dominated the territorial battle in the first period, although they did have some trouble penetrating the defensive barrier around Paddock, whose team was outshot 12-5. The lone goal came from Holwell, who scored during a scramble from the right face-off dot.
The Titan really poured it on in the second, outshooting Regina 17-0 in the first 11 minutes and virtually silencing a capacity crowd at the Brandt Centre.
Paddock made countless brilliant saves, including back-to-back stops on Ethan Crossman, who was initially denied on a partial breakaway. That was followed by another great chance from between the hash marks which was gloved by Paddock, prompting Crossman to look skyward in disbelief.
Shortly thereafter, Paddock slid across to turn away captain Jeffrey Truchon-Viel on a 2-on-1 break.
At the other end, Regina finally began to find its legs late in the frame, including a great chance for Sam Steel, but he was mugged in front before he could get a shot away.
Jared Legien had another great chance with two minutes left in the second, only to ring it off the right post.
Sensing their time was almost up, the Pats found another gear early in the third but couldn’t solve goalie Evan Fitzpatrick, who made a big glove save on Steel midway through the final frame.
Regina’s momentum was halted by a delay-of-game penalty to Cameron Hebig at the 10:41 mark. Although his team killed it off, Acadie-Bathurst thrust a dagger into the home side just 21 seconds later when Viel cruised down the right side and made a tricky between-the-legs move on Cale Fleury.
That gave Viel just enough room to throw the puck in front for Samuel Asselin, who drove hard to the net and punched it in from the top of the crease.
The Pats’ last gasp came when they were awarded their lone power play with 4:48 left in the third. However, the best scoring chance during the man advantage belonged to Asselin, who was denied on a shorthanded breakaway
The Titan added the final touch with 30 seconds left when Crossman scored into an empty net. The visitors were outshot 17-8 in the third period but finished with a 44-28 advantage overall.
“(Paddock) had a great game,” said Holwell. “I told him in the handshake, that game against Hamilton (in the semi-final), what a game he had there. He won them that game. It started to look a bit like he was going to have another game like that here and he did.”
It just wasn’t quite enough.
“We’re really proud of ourselves (for getting that far),” offered centre Matt Bradley. “But that’s not the way we wanted to finish it.”
After the game, the Pats lingered near their bench for several minutes as Acadie-Bathurst celebrated its first championship just a few feet away. The players shared hugs and shed tears before retreating to the dressing room for the final time this season, struggling to come to grips with the fact they came so close to winning the team’s first national championship in 43 years.
It would have been a storybook end to Regina’s 100th season, but Paddock put the loss in perspective.
“There’s nothing to hang your head about,” he told the players. “You got beat by a better team.”
NOTE: Steel was named the tournament’s most valuable player and top scorer with 13 points, three short of a Memorial Cup record. Paddock was named to the tournament all-star team, along with Steel and D Josh Mahura.