Lunch bucket Bombers play like kings

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:51 AM ET

LLOYDMINSTER -- The Thunder Bay Bombers are senior hockey league orphans back home - with no league to play in and a season made up of late-night practices and six exhibition games.

But by the end of the Allan Cup they'd been adopted by everyone in Lloydminster.

And, really, what's not to like about a band of scrappy underdogs - named after the fictional team from Youngblood, no less - who bused 20 hours to get here, then climbed off the canvas more times than Rocky to win Thunder Bay's first senior hockey title in 16 years.

"We basically had a bunch of hard-working guys who came in and stuck to the game plan," said Thunder Bay coach Vern Ray, after the Bombers fought back from a 3-1 third period, scoring late in regulation and early in overtime, to beat the Montmagny Sentinelles 4-3 in yesterday's final.

WASN'T ABOUT MONEY

"It wasn't about money. It wasn't about somebody's ego. It was all for the guy beside you. They knew we didn't have a league to play in, that all we were going to do was practise for four or five months. That gets pretty gruelling on guys, but they stuck with it.

"I give them all the credit in the world. When it came time to show up, they showed up in a big way."

They were battlers in every sense of the word. Kevin Hoogsteen, who scored the tying goal at 18:36 of the third period and then assisted on Derek Levanen's OTwinner at 2:18, was hobbling around on a fractured leg.

"He broke it in practice and it's still not fully healed," said Ray. "We taped it up in the first game and didn't play him the next one. When it came to crunch time, I said 'You've got to produce. Otherwise I can't put you in'. He said 'Don't worry about it, I'll play.' He was basically playing with a broken leg."

And glad to be doing it.

"For me to get a chance to play again and to be able to help that team by scoring was huge," he said.

Just another chapter in a great Cinderella story.

They looked like they were done when they got walloped 13-5 in their first two games, but they came back to beat host Lloydminster in the quarterfinal.

LOOKED TO BE DONE

They looked like they were done when they gave up four straight goals to blow a 3-0 lead against Horse Lake, but they rallied to send Theo Fleury and the Thunder packing, instantly winning fan favourite status for the final.

And yesterday, playing their fifth game in six nights, against the well-rested and skilled Montmagny, they looked like they were done when the Sentinelles took a 3-1 midway in the third period.

But they fought like lions. Jeff Adduono scored short-handed to make it 3-2, Hoogsteen squared it with 1:24 left and Derek Levanen brough the sold-out house down with the overtime winner at 2:18.

"The puck just squirted out to me and I batted it in," said Levanen. "One of the best goals of my career."

And one of the biggest in Thunder Bay's recent history.

"This is a big thing, this is huge," said Ray. "This is the best amateur hockey club in Canada. That's what this trophy stands for. It's phenomenal."


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