Just when they desperately needed a spark the most, the Bentley Generals turned to their captain who provided an electrifying goal midway through the third period that ultimately led to their first-ever Allan Cup championship, emblematic of the best senior hockey team in Canada.
Diarmuid Kelly converted a backhand shot at 5:21 of the second overtime period to lift the Generals to a 4-3 victory over the South East Prairie Thunder to give Bentley their first-ever national championship after three previous failures, but it certainly wasn’t easy.
Predicted by many to waltz through the final based on their previous play during the tournament, the Generals relied on some stellar goaltender provided by one of their old nemesis from the Chinook League and some late heroics from captain Kent Beagle to finally hoist the 101st version of the Allan Cup.
Down 3-2 halfway through the third period and looking very lethargic, Beagle intercepted an errant pass off the stick of defenseman Nick Fuher just outside the Thunder’s blueline and slipped a shot passed goaltender Brent Zelenewich to tie the score at 3-3 and sending the game to overtime.
With the championship hanging in the balance, Cory Rudkowsky made a brilliant save early in the first overtime period to keep the Gens in the game. Rudkowsky, who played in all four games during the tournament, was a late pickup from the Stony Plain Eagles and made a number of other stellar saves on the night.
Ryan Smith opened the scoring for the Thunder on the powerplay late in the first period before Ryan Manitowich responded with the first of two goals at 1:39 of the second period from Chris Martini and Kurt Bensmiller however the Thunder retook the lead under four minutes later on a goal powerplay goal by Tim Skarperud.
At the 17:44 mark of the period Manitowich struck for his second from Brett Thurston and Kevin Smyth to knot it up again but the Thunder weren’t prepared to roll over as they rebounded nicely early in the third with another powerplay goal, this time off the stick of Matt Ulwelling before Beagle’s unassisted and shorthanded goal at 8:03 of the third.
“It felt great,” Kelly told reporters following his championship-winning goal. “I haven’t scored a goal in a while so it felt really good. I was lucky to get it. I kept chopping away at it and finally got it. I’ve been to three Allan Cups and this is my first (championship). It feels unbelievable right now.”
The Generals romped through the early rounds of the tournament including back-to-back victories over the Thunder Bay Twins by scores of 8-1 and 9-1 and also defeated the host Steinbach North Stars 5-2 on the way to the finals.