The pinnacle of Junior ‘B’ hockey in the Western Canada region, it came off the heels of winning the team’s Kootenay International Junior Hockey League title and the Cyclone Taylor Cup on the way to the Nitehawks qualifying for the Keystone Cup.
Former Taber Golden Sun Taylor Stafford was a regular on the scoresheet for the Nitehawks in their undefeated run of six games at the Keystone Cup in Abbotsford, B.C., being the leading goal scorer in the tournament with seven to go with four assists.
“The weekend just felt right. It seemed like everything I threw at the net went in. Our line was working really well passing the puck between us pretty good,” said Stafford, a crafty winger on the team. “Everything on our line was clicking.”
But the only thing that could slow down Stafford was an unfortunate high stick to the mouth against Manitoba that saw him chip three of his teeth.
It caused Stafford to miss the Nitehawks’ 4-0 win over Northern Ontario even though Stafford said he could have gutted it out.
“I could have played in it, but it was a nothing game in the tournament. Either way, win or lose, we would have been in the final no matter what,” said Stafford.
“So they rested me and a couple of the other vets and then we played the next game which was the gold-medal game.”
That gold medal game was a 5-1 win over host Abbotsford, which punctuated a tournament that saw the Nitehawks flying high all tournament long with victories leading up to the gold-medal final, including 10-2 (Abbotsford), 5-1 (Saskatoon), 5-1 (Alberta), 3-0 (Manitoba) and 4-0 (Northern Ontario).
“We played so strong defensively where no team could handle it. And when we weren’t in the right position defensively, our goaltender saved us, he had a solid tournament too,” said Stafford.
Stang attributed the Nitehawks’ dominance in the tournament to how Junior ‘B’ leagues in British Columbia are set up compared to the rest of Western Canada.
“It shows how much better the system is in B.C. The other teams couldn’t keep up with us at all, we were way more dominant than them. The way they run it here, instead of playing Major Midget, they let us play Junior ‘B’ instead,” said Stang. “In the Junior ‘A’ league here they only allow 21 guys on a roster and in Alberta it’s 23 or 24. So if somebody gets hurt or sick, they have to pull someone up.”
Stang took on the mindset in helping his team to just play within himself and do what he does best in helping the Nitehawks eventually raise the Keystone Cup in victory.
“I play a pretty simple, hard-nosed, hard-working game,” said Stang, who helps patrol the blueline for the Nitehawks, who only surrendered five goals all tournament long.
“For me, it’s making that first pass, playing the body and blocking shots when I need to. We were focusing on our end first and then working our way out. It was sort of the best offence is a good defence sort of thing. It all started from our own end which was what was preached all season long and it proved pretty successful.”
The Nitehawks grabbed ever title they possibly could in its Junior ‘B’ hockey league, as both former Taberites are basking in the afterglow of hockey memories that will last a lifetime.
“It was a great experience. This is something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life,” said Stafford.
“It has been a great ride. I’ll never forget this season with the good guys I was with. It was awesome,” added Stang.
“We’re going to get championship rings and every time I see that ring it’s going to bring back good memories