The odds might have been stacked against them.
And now the Cougars, members of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, can rightfully boast they are the top Junior A club in Canada.
Cobourg captured its national crown, the RBC Cup, thanks to a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory over the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Brooks Bandits on Sunday.
The Cougars were awarded a spot into the five-team national tournament only because they were serving as the hosts of the event. And no doubt plenty of people were wondering how the Cobourg side would fare in the tournament since it had a 37-day layoff between the conclusion of its own OJHL playoffs and the start of the nationals.
Well, the Cougars ended up finishing atop the RBC Cup standings after round-robin play by winning three of their four contests. And following a 3-1 semifinal victory over the British Columbia Hockey League’s Penticton Vees on Sunday, they were pumped to capture the national title on Sunday at their home rink, the Cobourg Community Centre.
Though the Bandits outshot the Cougars 43-23, the Cobourg squad was bending but not breaking in the final. The Cougars managed to send the game into OT when forward Ryan Casselman scored to deadlock the match at 2-2 with just 67 seconds remaining in the third period.
Cobourg’s 21-year-old defenceman Nick Minerva was then the OT hero, scoring at the 8:21 mark of the extra session with a rocket from the point off an offensive faceoff. His blast managed to get back Bandits goalie Mitch Benson and find its way into the Brooks net.
“I closed my eyes and took the hardest shot of my life,” Minerva said. “And it went in.”
Minerva’s goal silenced all those who were not anticipating the Cougars would have success at the nationals.
“A lot of people didn’t expect us to have the outcome that we did,” said Minerva, a native of the New Jersey city of New Brunswick.
Minerva was trying his best to explain his feelings shortly after the Cougars’ triumph.
“It kind of feels like winning the Stanley Cup,” he said. “Not quite. But pretty damn close.”
For Minerva, it was a perfect way to end his well-travelled junior career. After suiting up for clubs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Minerva went on to play for five different teams in five different circuits that make up the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
He joined the Cougars this past January, via a trade with the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles.
“There’s a lot of people that doubted me during my journey of junior hockey,” Minerva said.
But Cobourg goalie Stefano Durante, who made 41 saves on Sunday and was selected as the Cougars player of the game, was not one of those doubters.
In fact, once he saw his club had a face off deep in the Bandits’ zone, he had an inkling of what would happen.
“I drew up the face off in my mind,” said Durante, who has now also
completed his junior career. “And I said ‘just get it back to Minerva.’”
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