On Tuesday night (Mar.26), Jordan Gustafson scored a goal he will never forget.
In the series-deciding game five of the provincial finals, Gustafson scored 30 seconds into the second overtime to lift the Fort Saskatchewan Bantam AAA Rangers to a 5-4 win over the Red Deer Rebels.
"A rebound just popped out to the side of the net and I was just in the right place at the right time," he said. "It almost felt like time had froze. I didn't really know what to do after, so I just threw my gloves and the team was going wild so it was a great feeling."
The game was a heavyweight tilt from start to finish. Fort Sask jumped out to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Brandon Kowal and Gustafson.
Despite the deficit, Red Deer refused to back down. The Rebels got goals from Tyler MacKenzie and Nate Danielson mid-way through the third period to tie the game at 2-2.
Mason Hartley put the Rangers back up 3-2 only 20 seconds after Danielson tied the game, but 13 seconds after that, Kaiden Ellertson evened the score at 3-3.
The wild ride continued with 2:25 remaining in regulation, as Ty Daneault was able to get one past Rangers goaltender Carson Burkart to put Red Deer up 4-3.
With the game seemingly falling apart before their eyes, Jayden Joly, who had a four point night, tied the game with 19 seconds left in the third period to force overtime.
"It was crazy — I think the best part was we got to win a championship with all of our best friends," Gustafson added. "We're a super tight team, so to win with your best buds is something special. The room was going crazy all night and I don't think we even got out of the rink until about midnight."
After coming into fall tryouts relatively unknown, Burkart made 23 saves for his 7th win of the playoffs.
"I'm super proud of both Burkart and (Liam) Bechthold," said head coach Mat Conlon. "I know it was difficult on them because they're both starters, but they were great teammates."
When it mattered most in game five, the Rangers were able to get secondary scoring in key moments, showcasing the best Bantam AAA depth in the province.
"To see guys like Hartley and Kowal score — two guys who have been through adversity all year — was great," Conlin noted. "You don't win championships if you don't find secondary scoring."
With a full buy-in from all 19 players, he also added that one line could be considered their unsung heroes of the playoffs.
"That's the line of (Daniel) Kozakewich, Hartley and a mix of (Ryle) Dubitz and (Carter) Spirig. That line in particular for us, we told them, 'We're not looking for a ton of offence, but if we get it, that's a great bonus,'" he explained. "The biggest thing for them was locking it down and being reliable in our own end."
To say the season was a success would be a massive understatement. From being invited to the Bauer Invitational, Rocky Mountain Classic and John Reid Memorial to winning a provincial title against Alberta's best club teams, the Rangers Athletic Club continues to produce elite hockey talent at the highest levels.
"All the returning players decided to stay here this year instead of going to academies," Gustafson said. "We just wanted to give our team the best chance to get the looks and we've accomplished every big goal we had."
In the playoffs, Bechthold dominated statistically between the pipes, posting a .949 save percentage and a 1.26 goals against average, while Jordan Gustafson led the province in scoring with 25 points in 13 games.
The team finished 22-5-6 in the regular season and won their division, as Rhett Melnyk drove the offence with an incredible 74 points in 35 games.
The future for Fort Saskatchewan minor hockey is looking bright, as 2005-born forward Teydon Trembecky took on massive roles this season as a first-year bantam, posting 43 points in the regular season and 12 in playoffs.