The Tillsonburg Thunder won their second WOAA senior men's hockey trophy in two years Saturday night in Ripley, clinching the best-of-seven finals 4-1.
It wasn't the same AA championship they had won on home ice in 2015, but the A title, which for a team that has been short players much of the playoffs was a notable achievement.
"The boys won it on the road this year," said Thunder team president Mike Holly after Tillsonburg took back-to-back games in Ripley, 7-4 Friday and 4-3 Saturday. They did not need Game 6 in Tillsonburg Sunday night.
"It would have been nice to win it at home, but when you have an opportunity to win it," said Holly, "you take advantage of it."
Tillsonburg's special teams were effective both nights with four power-play goals and short-handed empty-netter Friday and two power-plays and one short-handed goal Saturday.
"The Saturday night game was a really good game," said Holly.
Ryan Fletcher's power-play goal with 1:35 left in the second period, assisted by Trevor Rosborough and Nathan Peacock, turned out to be the game and series winner. Trailing by two in the third, Ripley got one back with 5:19 left in regulation.
"We really carried the play," said Holly.
"Their goalie (Kurt Edwards) made some really good saves, and our goalie, Tommy (Lee) has been lights out the last couple of games. Some of Tommy's saves, I don't know how he got them. He was the difference maker."
Another difference maker was Thunder assistant captain Shane Balcomb, the team's all-time scoring leader, closely followed by captain Nathan Peacock. Balcomb had two goals Saturday, giving them 1-0 and 3-2 leads.
"He (Balcomb) was trying to catch Cody (Chute's) penalty minutes too, but after Friday's game," Holly laughed, "he didn't have a chance at that.
"The guys just came together. It's a good, young team. The base of this team is strong."
Momentum had swung both ways during the five-game A finals. Tillsonburg opened with a 7-1 win, but Ripley rebounded on home ice doubling the 10-man (nine skaters and a goalie) Thunder 6-3.
Game 3 in Tillsonburg went into overtime, won by Thunder's Brandon Contratto. Both teams had double digits in shots each of the first three periods.
"But if you look at where the shots were taken," said Holly. "A lot were from the outside and a lot of ours were in tight. When we had our full lineup there, they just couldn't skate with us."
Holly was quick to credit the Ripley team.
"Their top two players were out – the top player was out the whole series, he got a new job and had to work – and in Game 4 their second top guy dislocated his shoulder. He was out for the fifth game. They (Ripley) fought hard, they didn't give up.
"For all the work we had to do this year, even though it's an A title, the guys deserved it. Milverton played hard (losing Game 7 to Tillsonburg in OT), Ripley played hard – they came to win. I'm proud of our guys stepping up and doing what they needed to do and bringing home some more hardware for Tillsonburg. Our guys fought hard and they earned this one. It was well deserved."
Holly thanked the fans who made the trip to Ripley on the weekend.
"It's good to have the support."
Next year, Holly said the goal is to get back into the AA playoffs, which were won by Clinton Radars on March 26 sweeping Mapleton-Minto 81s 4-0. Clinton was the South Division's No. 1 team with a 21-2-1 record, while Mapleton-Minto (the team Tillsonburg defeated 4-1 in last year's AA final) finished the North Division regular season with a 22-0 record.
"Next year our team will be stronger, much stronger," said Holly. "We've got to bring more players with more commitment. We've got to make sure our lineup is full. And that will be done, for sure."
There was a lot of turnover from the 2014-15 team, Holly noted.
"We had a lot of guys come back for 'the ring' and they got that. Some kind of wanted to come back this year, some kind of didn't. We didn't get the commitment, practice or games. Next year we have to make sure.
"There are some good players in Tillsonburg and we want them to come out," said Holly, already looking forward to 2016-17. "We have to rebuild. We have tryouts in September, and if you want to skate with the Thunder, give us a call. Tell us you want to play and we'll make sure you're on the ice.
The team's management planned to take the week off, but Holly said recruiting has already begun.
"We've already started talking to some players... we've just got to get them out. We're telling the guys, let's get back into the AA playoffs and have fun like last year."