By Josh Brown | Record Reporter
Waterloo Region Record
Thu., May 9, 2019
LONDON — At the time it was tough to watch.
Eight months back, the Waterloo Siskins opened the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League season on the road in Listowel against the defending Sutherland Cup champion Cyclones.
“It was a Friday night in their barn,” recalled Waterloo coach Todd Hoffman. “They were giving out their rings and they dropped the banner.”
Talk about an awkward moment.
After all, it was those same Cyclones that bounced a confident Siskins bunch in a nail-biting seven game series in the Midwestern Conference semifinals on their way to the Cup earlier last season.
But Hoffman was glad his crew saw the celebration.
He believed his bunch was capable of a championship run of their own. Funny enough, it started that night with a 5-4 victory.
Wednesday, that journey came to an end at London’s Western Fair Sports Centre with the Siskins hoisting the Sutherland Cup over their heads for the first time in 25 years.
Waterloo had to go the distance in the best-of-seven Cup final but closed out the series with a dramatic 3-2 win in overtime against the London Nationals.
“I told these guys they are a special group and that we have an opportunity to do something special this year,” said Hoffman. “I reiterated that after that third period when we came into overtime. They just continued to believe that they’re going to win every hockey game.”
The back and forth nature of the series continued in the clincher.
London’s Cal Davis broke a scoreless tie on the power play just past the five minute mark of the second period but Waterloo’s Curtis Rawn responded with 6.5 seconds left in the stanza to set up a tense final frame.
Davis added his second of the match just 10 seconds in for a 2-1 lead but, once again, the Siskins rallied, this time off the blade of Sam Spaedt with 4:08 left in regulation.
Waterloo took charge in overtime and capped the victory on defenceman Alec Tiley’s floater from the point.
“I just threw it on net,” he said. “I just looked for a lane. The next thing I know it’s in the back of the net.”
Tiley tossed his gloves in the air, charged toward goalie Matt Onuska and jumped on the keeper before his team piled on in celebration. Onuska made 33 saves and was named the Sutherland Cup’s most valuable player.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Tiley. “We never let anything faze us. When we got down it wasn’t a big deal for us because we knew we could come back at any time.”
This was London’s fourth consecutive trip to the final four of the Sutherland Cup — and third loss in the championship.
“You look at it and it’s Game 7 and in overtime and they got one more shot on net than we did and it turns out to be the game-winner,” said Nationals coach Pat Powers. “Take your hats off to those guys. They battled hard and they took what we let them have.”
The road to the Cup was long for the Siskins.
The club finished third during the regular season with a record of 32-13-0-3 and then had to fight its way through rivals the Cambridge RedHawks and Stratford Warriors to reach the Cherrey Cup final where the team downed the Cyclones in six games.
It took six more games to dispatch the Niagara Falls Canucks in the Sutherland semifinals to get a date, as underdogs, against the Nationals in the championship series.
Waterloo cruised to a 9-4 win in Game 1 but that was the only lopsided win. Game 2 saw the Siskins rally in the third period to tie the match before winning 5-4 in overtime. It was a similar story in Game 5 where the team trailed 3-2 in the third period but scored three unanswered markers for a 5-3 victory.
Wednesday, the Siskins were missing one of their best players.
Leading scorer Sam Cherry was forced to watch Game 7 from the sidelines while serving a suspension for a match penalty for checking to the head, a punishment Waterloo publicly disputed.
It was a huge loss but the team used the ruling as inspiration.
“It was a full motivator,” said Hoffman. “The guys wanted to do it for him.”
It the end, it was a special win for a special squad loaded with character players.
Veterans like captain Alex Cimino, a London native who broke into the league with the Nationals before switching sweaters after he moved to the region to attend the University of Waterloo.
And Kitchener’s Owen Lane, who battled to the Cup final last season with Caledonia only to come up short.
And Onuska, who lifted his stock with a strong playoff run and whose black and yellow pads will match Kingston’s colours should the Ontario Hockey League prospect elect to pursue his career with the Frontenacs.
And young Joseph Serpa of Cambridge, who could also make the leap to the OHL next season at the Aud with the Kitchener Rangers.
And, so many more, like the Game 7 hero.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Tiley. “We knew it had been 25 years since the team brought the Cup home so we’re really happy to do so.”