Story in conjunction with WHL.ca
With the game on his stick and the final seconds of regulation furiously ticking off the clock, Peyton Krebs provided crystal-clear proof why the Kootenay ICE were wise to call his name with the first overall selection at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft this past May.
With an almost expert execution, the 15-year-old product of Okotoks took a long stretch pass at centre ice with not much more than 15 seconds to play. Carrying in over the Saskatchewan blueline, Krebs dishes a beautiful saucer pass right on the tape of Dylan Holloway. The sixth round pick of the Everett Silvertips took care of the rest, draining the alley-oop to give Alberta a 4-3 lead with only 2.8 seconds on the clock.
“Krebsie was taking the draw, Keeler was playing left and I was going out right,” Holloway said, retracing his steps that led to the game-deciding moment. “It was a great play by our defenceman to get it up to Keeler and he made a great chip. Krebsie goes in, did his thing and made a really nice pass. All I had to do was tap it in… I was so pumped when it went in.
“It feels great, it’s a big win – the first win’s always the biggest one because you want to start the tournament on a good note. The boys battled hard. We had some struggles along the way and dealt with adversity but came through as a team.”
Yep, it all happened that fast.
U16 CHALLENGE CUP (DAY 1) – TIPS PROSPECTS, OF NOTE:
- DYLAN HOLLOWAY (Alberta): Game winning goal, 2.8 left in regulation
- MARK LIWISKI (Manitoba): assist
- REECE VITELLI (Manitoba): goal, +1
And what made it even more dramatic was the fact Saskatchewan clawed its way back, tying the game at 3-3 with goaltender Nolan Maier at the bench and only 54 seconds to play in the third period. Jaydon Dureau, an eighth round pick of the Portland Winterhawks, jumped on a loose puck and snuck it past Taylor Gauthier, taking the wind out of Alberta’s sails and sending a shockwave through the home crowd at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary.
“It’s definitely a good win,” Krebs said Wednesday night. “We had a few struggles along the way but we battled back as a team and that’s huge in this tournament to be able to battle back from deficits. As long as we do that, I think we’ll be successful.”
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While Krebs and Holloway combined to thrill the Alberta crowd, their last-minute heroics broke the hearts of a Saskatchewan team that was deserving of at least a single point on a night in which they battled a deep Alberta opponent to the bitter end.
“It would’ve been nice to get a point I guess, but you’ve got to love the game of hockey – it’s never over till it’s over,” said Rich Pilon, head coach of Team Saskatchewan, Wednesday night. “We tip our hats as a coaching staff and management staff to the kids that showed up tonight. By the third period, we were down to 14 skaters – those guys were laying it on the line and buying in. They’ve got nothing to feel bad about or ashamed of. They showed up and played the game of hockey the way it’s supposed to be played.
“You’ve got to move forward and you learn from the mistakes you make. That’s what the game is – it’s a game of mistakes and they capitalized on a late mistake we made as a group. It’s hockey, man.”
From start to finish, the marquee matchup did absolutely nothing but excite fans in attendance.
Liam Keeler opened the scoring midway through the first period. Cranbrook product Bowen Byram started the sequence with a gorgeous stretch pass through the neutral zone, hitting Keeler in stride who cruised in and finished the play in tight for a 1-0 Alberta lead.
Late in the first period, Krebs found the back of the net to extend his team’s lead to 2-0.
While there was no shortage of elite blue-chippers to keep eyes on in this contest, the captains for both sides truly did steal the spotlight.
With time winding down in the first period, Saskatchewan captain Logan Barlage picked his team up.
The product of Humboldt took advantage of a key power-play opportunity to get Saskatchewan on the board with only 1:29 remaining in the opening period. In a moment where it looked like Alberta might begin pulling away, Barlage simply stepped up and swung a little bit of energy back in his club’s favour heading into the first intermission.
The Swift Current Broncos first round pick continued to exercise his imposing figure on the proceedings early in the second period. Directing the play on a 5-on-3 power-play opportunity in the second period, Barlage found Kaeden Korczak in the left faceoff circle. With all kinds of ice to play with, the first round pick of the Kelowna Rockets let a pinpoint wrist shot go and it found the top shelf behind Gauthier to tie the game at 2-2.
“Your best players have to be your best players,” Pilon said of Barlage and Korczak. “Anytime you play a game, your best defenceman, your best forward and your goalie have to outplay the other team’s best players… If your best players show up to play hockey and can outplay the other team on the other side, you’re always going to have a chance to win the game. That proved it tonight with Korczak and Barlage playing the way they did.”
Once the third period rolled around, it was Krebs’ time to shine.
Midway through the final period, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound spitfire found time and space in the offensive zone, unleashing an absolute laser of a shot that beat Maier and Alberta had itself a 3-2 lead.
“There’s a reason he went first overall – he’s a really great player,” Holloway said of the impact Krebs had. “He has speed, hockey smarts, the shot and he’s a great leader. He’s a big part of this team.”
As for the rest, well, we know all about that crazy finish already.
Team Alberta returns to action Thursday, taking to the ice for the evening affair once again, but this time facing a hungry Team Manitoba, which fell 7-3 to Team BC earlier in the day.
“We’re just going to fix those few kinks that we had, that we stumbled on in the second and the third,” Krebs said. “Try to fix those and I think we’ll be successful if we keep working and keep getting better every day.”
As for Team Saskatchewan, they look to shake off the heartbreak when they face Team BC in the Thursday afternoon game at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary.
“We reset, we don’t change a lot,” Pilon said. “The biggest thing we do with young kids like this is have the same effort.”
The Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup has been sponsored since 2009 by the WHL and has been made possible through financial support provided by the WHL, Hockey Manitoba, BC Hockey, Hockey Alberta, Saskatchewan Hockey Association and Hockey Canada.
This marks the sixth edition of the event. The first Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup was held in Blackfalds, Alta., in 2009 and featured four of the top eight players selected at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. In 2011, the Moose Jaw Warriors and Saskatchewan Hockey Association hosted the event at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw. In 2012, the tournament returned to Alberta, hosted in Calgary at Father David Bauer Arena – home of the WHL – where it remained for two years. In 2015, the tournament was once again hosted in Calgary, but shifted to the Markin MacPhail Centre.
Team Alberta is a four-time champion of the Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup, capturing the title in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Team BC won the event in 2012, while Team Manitoba and Team Saskatchewan are still seeking the crown.