The bantam A2 Cowichan Thunder display their silver medals from the provincial championships in Parksville last weekend. (Submitted)

The bantam A2 Cowichan Thunder display their silver medals from the provincial championships in Parksville last weekend. (Submitted)

Bantam Thunder bring home silver

The decisive goal was scored with about eight seconds left to play in the title game at the bantam A2 provincial championships in Parksville on Sunday, but that one goal wasn’t what broke the backs of the Cowichan Thunder, who still brought home the silver medal.

According to head coach Gord MacDonald, costly penalties silenced the Thunder, who lost 8-7 to the Ridge Meadows Burrards in the gold-medal match at Howie Meeker Arena.

“There were so many penalties,” he said. “Stuff that normally they wouldn’t call, they were calling.

“We didn’t lose because the boys didn’t try. There were just too many penalties.”

After giving up two goals in the first minute, the Thunder settled down and battled back to lead 3-2. Ridge Meadows pulled ahead 7-3, but Cowichan managed to pull even before the Burrards scored the back-breaker as time ticked down.

Josh MacDonald led the Thunder with four goals in the final, while Dawson Elzinga had two and Jake McCluskey added one.

The Thunder started the tournament last Thursday with a 4-2 win over the Penticton Heat at Victor Kraatz Arena. Luke Ellison led the way with a goal and two assists, and Parker Klippenstein added a goal and a helper. Keegan Martin and Jake McCluskey also scored, and Josh MacDonald had a pair of assists.

MacDonald and McCluskey each potted four goals at the Nanaimo Ice Centre the next afternoon, as Cowichan trounced the Vancouver Burrards 12-4. MacDonald added three assists and McCluskey chipped in with one, and Elzinga had two of each. Ellison also scored, and Austin Webb had two helpers.

The Thunder got their first crack at Ridge Meadows at Howie Meeker Arena on Saturday morning, but went in unprepared and lost 7-2. Elzinga and Ellison had the Cowichan goals.

“The first time we played them I thought was the worst game I’ve seen these kids ever play,” said MacDonald, who has coached many of the same players for several years. “I don’t know what happened. I think they thought they were gonna thump them.”

With two wins and a loss in pool play, the Thunder moved on to the semifinals against the Saanich Tigers, historic rivals of Cowichan that MacDonald predicted his team would face at provincials after beating them for the Island championship. Saanich was ahead late in the game, but Cowichan poured it on and ended up on top 7-5. McCluskey finished with a hat trick and two assists, and Elzinga had two goals and three helpers, while Martin and Josh Wong also found the net.

Josh MacDonald was injured in the semifinal against Saanich, but came back to play in the final, and was named a tournament all-star. Austin Webb was Cowichan’s recipient of the Warrior Fair Play Award.

Many of the same players have worked their way up the age groups together, winning two bronze medals in peewee before collecting silver in their first year at bantam. The ultimate goal of gold has been elusive so far, but the team is trending upward, coach MacDonald acknowledged.

“We’re getting closer,” he said.