STEINBACH — Never give up, never surrender. Tyler Dittmer scored at 8:03 of the first overtime period to cap a gigantic Sunday afternoon comeback, give the Southeast Prairie Thunder a 3-2 victory over the Saskatchewan champion Shellbrook Elks, and send the Prairie Thunder to Dundas, Ont., for the 2014 Allan Cup Championship.
Dittmer, the former Brandon Wheat Kings and University of Manitoba Bisons star, grabbed a loose puck in front of Shellbrook Elks goaltender Brendan Cuthbert and “guided it into the net,” for the winning goal. It capped a tremendous comeback. The Prairie Thunder trailed 2-0 heading into the third period and while they had a 2-0 series lead, it looked like the two teams would be back in Steinbach for Game 4 on Monday.
But that’s when Riley Dudar took over. Another former Bisons star, Dudar scored the Prairie Thunder’s first goal at 3:17 of the third period and then did a great job to keep the puck in the Elks zone as Brad Purdie scored the tying goal at 16:43 of the third. Then, in the overtime, Dudar set up Dittmer with the winner.
Put together Sunday’s 3-2 win with a 2-1 victory on Friday night and a 4-2 win on Saturday and the Prairie Thunder, a team that featured 45-year-old former NHL star Terry Yake, took out Saskatchewan in three straight games and claimed the Rathgaber Trophy, emblematic of Manitoba-Saskatchewan Senior Hockey supremacy.
“I’m pleased with the guys because we had three different lineups for three different games. That’s the nature of Senior hockey,” said Thunder head coach Jamie Leach, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins. “Still, it was easy coaching these guys. I’ve known most of these guys for sometime and they’re all really good hockey players.”
Leach was especially impressed with Dudar.
“I know Riley really well,” Leach said. “In fact, I asked him to come to B.C. with me when I coached out there, but he had a messed up shoulder that he needed to get fixed up so he didn’t stay. Anyway, he’s a helluva hockey player. He’s always in tremendous shape and while he’s a great offensive player, he’s also one of the best defensive players on this team. He’s very responsible on our side of the red line and he’s a guy who always makes real good decisions. He doesn’t force anything. If the play isn’t there, he stops and says, ‘Boys, let’s set this up again.’ He’s just a really good player at this level.
“Here’s the kind of player he is. On Friday night, our fourth line scored both of our goals. The fourth line was there to double-shift Riley. He played on our second line and fourth line.”
Dudar is an interesting individual. He never played Triple A hockey at any level, instead he was happy to play House League and Double A. He played junior in Woodstock, N.B., and then came back to Winnipeg to play five years with the University of Manitoba Bisons. Today, he’s the Bisons strength coach. If he was 6-foot-3 instead 5-foot-6, he’d probably be in the NHL.
“I didn’t play Triple A by choice,” he said. “I came from a family of five kids and Triple A was really expensive. I never gave Triple A a second thought. I just love to play. And I really enjoy playing senior hockey.”
As excited as Dudar was about heading to Dundas for the national championship tournament, Dittmer was beside himself.
“I’m going to Mexico on the 25th so that will be a great way to celebrate,” said the man from Brandon who scored the winning goal. “This was such a huge win today. When I got here, I really didn’t know much about it, but this is a great group of guys and it’s been fun this weekend.
“Coming back from two-down in the third and then winning it in overtime, is a really exciting way to win the series. It also shows how much character this team has. This team works hard and never gives up.”
The Allan Cup championship will be held April 14-19 just outside Hamilton, Ont. The Allan Cup has been Canada’s Senior Amateur Championship since 1909 although the trophy was first awarded in Ontario in 1890. The Prairie Thunder won the 2012 title, beating the Rosetown Red Wings in the final, and were runners-up to Alberta’s Bentley Generals in 2009. The last time Manitoba won the Allan Cup before 2012 was in 2003 when the Ile-des-Chenes North Stars beat the Stony Plain Eagles in overtime in the championship game — in Dundas, Ont.