The Nelson Leafs may have failed to capture the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League Championship in 2019 but that doesn’t mean the trophy won’t make a special trip to the Heritage City this summer.
Thanks to Brenden Vulcano, the KIJHL trophy most likely will grace the city after the Nelson Minor Hockey grad helped the Revelstoke Grizzlies shock the league expert to capture the Junior B League crown with a five-game series win over Kimberley Dynamiters.
Vulcano and Company added a bit of sweetener to the season by claiming the Cyclone Taylor Cup, emblematic of Junior B Hockey supremacy in BC, with a 5-1 victory over Victoria Cougars in Campbell River.
“It is an unreal feeling knowing that all of our hard work has paid off . . . all the grind paid off of waking up at 6:30 a.m. every morning for workouts as much as we wanted to sleep . . . it doesn’t matter now that we’re champs,” the 18-year-old Vulcano told The Nelson Daily.
Revelstoke came out of the Doug Birks Division of the Okanagan/Shuswap Conference as one of the top teams in the KIJHL, finishing a few points behind front-running Kimberley and Kelowna Chiefs.
Kelowna topped the KIJHL regular season and the Okanagan/Shuswap Conference with 89 points while Kimberley, Kootenay Conference Champs and defending League winners, was a close second at 88.
The Grizzlies, coached by Ryan Parent, made quick work out of Kamloops Storm and 100 Mile House Wranglers with series sweeps to enable Revelstoke to capture the Doug Birks Playoff Title.
However, just when most had predicted the Chiefs to cruise to the Okanagan/Shuswap Conference Final, Revelstoke stunned the favourites in six games — surprisingly winning three times on the road at the Rutland Arena.
“We just stuck to our game plan no matter what the score was and when we needed to make changes we were able to do it very well,” the son of Yvonne and Vince Vulcano of Nelson explained.
“And just having that level of confidence knowing we could do it but still having a little bit of nervousness knowing that they were top teams in the league for a reason and that we had to take them seriously.”
Vulcano and defence partner Caleb Raush played a major part in the upset, spending most of the time on the ice against Kelowna’s top line of Brody Dale, Zach Erhardt and Devon Sutton. The Chiefs top line had combined for 283 points during the regular season and 37 in two previous series against Osoyoos and Summerland.
“We knew each other so well that we would always know where each other was, and that helped a lot,” said Vulcano, who has played with teammate Raush the past two seasons.
“PK (penalty kill) was a big part of our game especially late in the games,” Vulcano added. “A few times like in Game six against Kelowna, I don’t think we came off the ice in the last five minutes (as Kelowna pressed to score).”
After surprising Kimberley in the KIJHL title in five games, it was off to Campbell River for Revelstoke to represent the KIJHL at the Cyclone Taylor Cup.
It took the Grizzlies a game to realize the Cyclone Taylor competition was just as tough as the KIJHL — Revelstoke lost its opener of the four-team tournament 4-1 to Victoria Cougars — before the players stepped it up to close out the tournament with three consecutive wins to capture the title.
“I don’t think we took Victoria seriously enough the first game,” Vulcano said when asked about the first-game loss. “We watched a lot of video seeing where we were going wrong and what needed to be adjusted to be better and had to get our work rate back up because these teams won their leagues for a reason.”
“Even the host team Campbell River, who lost a close series to Victoria in the finals, was going to be a challenge,” adds Vulcano, whose brother Reid played as an affiliate with the hometown Nelson Leafs.
Vulcano, who spent four seasons at the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in Kelowna before landing a spot on the Grizzlies roster, is a little disappointed to see the season end.
Next year the 6-foot, 165-pound rearguard, who attests to baseball and golf as interests during the offseason, plans to attend a few Junior a Camps to test the waters of the league above.
However, if Junior A is not in the cards just yet, then there’s always a shutdown spot open on the Grizzlies for the 2019-20 campaign.
And who knows, maybe a few more surprises left in the Junior B bag for Vulcano and the Grizzlies.
Grizzlies defenceman Brenden Vulcano hoists the Cyclone Taylor Cup trophy in Campbell River. — Submitted