Langley trio boards Express for championship run
Celebrating the Fred Page Cup — which is presented to the playoff champions of the B.C. Hockey League — is always special.
But when the Coquitlam Express hoisted the Cup on Tuesday night, it was a little extra special for Brendan Lamont.
After all, this was the third team the 19-year-old from Langley was playing on this season alone.
"Being traded that many times in a season can be tough, but it all worked out in the end," he said on Wednesday afternoon, the day after the underdog Express completed a sweep of the Vernon Vipers in the BCHL final with a 4-3 game four victory on Coquitlam's home ice at the Poirier Sports and Leisure Complex.
This is Lamont's third year in the league. He spent the first two seasons in Merritt and began this year with Trail, was traded to Penticton, and then finally to Coquitlam.
This was the fourth straight higher-seed the Express steamrolled in the post-season as they have won 14 of 19 playoff games.
Coquitlam, the third seed in the Mainland Division, began their improbable playoff run with a six-game victory over the Prince George Spruce Kings. They then knocked off the top team in the BCHL regular season, the Langley Rivermen, also in six games. This is the second straight year the Rivermen have been ousted from the playoffs by the eventual league champions.
What followed was something new in the league — a round robin tournament between the three division winners with the top two advancing to square off in a best-of-seven series to determine the Fred Page Cup champions.
The Vipers, the Interior Division champs, and the Express edged out the Island Division-winning Victoria Grizzlies to advance to the league finals.
Lamont said his team knew they underachieved during the regular season — they had 59 points in 58 games and were tied for ninth out of the 16 teams — but knew they had something special in the post-season, especially after going up 2-0 on the Rivermen in the second round.
"I think when we got the lead on Langley … that really gave us a confidence boost since they were the top team in the league," he said.
"I felt like in the playoffs, we came together and that confidence really helped us persevere."
Lamont was one of three Langley Minor Hockey Association alums on the team, as he was joined by a pair of 18-year-old BCHL rookies, forward Daniell Lange and defenceman Anthony Gardner.
The team is also coached by Barry Wolff, who served as an assistant head coach to Harvey Smyl when the Chiefs played in Langley from 2006 to 2011.
For Lange, it has been impeccable timing: he played last season with the Richmond Sockeyes and helped the team win a bevy of trophies: the Pacific Junior Hockey League championship, the Cyclone Taylor Cup (provincial championship) and the Keystone Cup (western Canadian championship) in his one and only season of junior B hockey. And in his first crack at the junior A level, he was able to hoist the Fred Page Cup.
"I don't think I have ever been this lucky or proud of both teams that I have been on," he said.
"Both teams were great groups of guys."
This year has been an adjustment of Lange.
At all his previous stops, Lange has been counted on as a dynamic offensive force.
Last year he scored 34 goals and 53 points in 44 regular games and he led the league in goals. He added another 14 goals and 31 points in 23 post-season games.
The season before, Lange had 23 points and 51 points in 47 games while playing in the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League with the Valley West Hawks.
This season, he had eight goals and 11 points in 51 games and then a pair of assists in 19 playoff games.
So it has been a bit of an adjustment in his first year at the junior A level.
"It is a lot faster than every other league I have been in," he admitted.
"You try to keep your head up at all times."
Lange said he just tried to stay positive.
"Sometimes it was hard, but then I realized I had a lot to learn from the guys," he said.
"They have really helped me a lot and they have showed me what to do and how to be a better player."
Lange still has two seasons of junior eligibility.
Lamont, who can play one more season of junior, said his role has changed over the years depending on where he is playing, but his numbers have remained about the same: in 172 career BCHL games, he has 20 goals and 60 points.
"My role is ever-changing, it just depends on what the team needs," he explained.
With the Express, that means the five-foot-nine, 175-pound forward has played an energy role for the team.
He as added two goals and seven points in Coquitlam's post-season run.
Gardner, a six-foot-one 185-pound defenceman, has played in just two games this post-season — but none since the Express series against Langley — after playing in 50 games during the season and finishing with nine assists.
"It is certainly hard," he admitted about playing almost the entire regular season before being forced to the press box in the playoffs. "Just try to think positive, train as much as possible and just be ready because you never know when you are going to get an opportunity."
Gardner admitted to being nervous during the series clinching victory, which also saw a Vernon goal waived off with 0.4 seconds left because of a glove pass.
"I was pretty nervous but … you just have to stay relaxed and know your team is going to pull out the win," he said.
Following the victory, Gardner changed into his gear as quickly as he could — he estimated it was less than two minutes — to join his teammates on the ice in the celebration.
Gardner played junior B last season in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League and had six goals and 23 points in 49 games for the Fernie Ghostriders.
"The biggest transition was the speed of the game," he said about making the move up a level.
"The BCHL is a lot faster and you have to contain guys a lot more than riding them into the boards."
Up next for the Express is a trip to Dauphin, Man. for the Western Canada Cup. The tournament runs April 25 to May 4. The top two teams advance to the RBC Cup — Canada's junior A national championship — which will be held in Vernon with the Vipers already qualified as the host team.