Stead leads Tracker midgets to OMAHA title
Sixteen-year-old netminder Kristian Stead continued his brilliant play between the pipes on the weekend in leading his Merritt Tracker Sportswear midget rep team to its third Okanagan-Mainline Tier 3 championship title in four years.
Stead turned aside practically everything thrown at him in a pair of Merritt wins over Chase in their best-of-three final series to determine the OMAHA champions and who would be going to Provincials in Port Alberni from March 17-22.
Saturday, in Chase, the Jr. Cents roared out of the gate — scoring four times in the first period — en route to an 8-2 thrashing of the Broncos. Nolan Prowal and Dallas Grismer-Voght each scored two goals for the winners, while singles went to Riley Barnes, Tyler Edward, Bradley Colter and Aaron Montreuil.
In front of over 300 fans in Merritt on Sunday, things were considerably closer through the first 20 minutes, with only Prowal able to score against a much more determined Chase side.
After the Broncos briefly tied the contest early in the second period, the Jr. Cents broke open the game with two unanswered goals in each of the second and third periods to win 5-1. Merritt marksmen down the stretch were Zack Sanderson (2), Grismer-Voght and Barnes.
Stead, for his part, allowed just three goals in the two games against Chase, and a total of only five goals in his final four outings.
“Kristian was amazing,” Merritt assistant coach Zach Wright said. “He was stopping everything.”
The inspirational story of Merritt’s road to the 2013 Provincials will be told for years to come. With several rookies and first-year rep players in the lineup, the team didn’t win its first league game until December.
A record of 4-8-2 at the end of regular league play placed Merritt’s midgets in seventh place in the eight-team Tier 3 division, and firmly labelled them as decided underdogs throughout the playoffs.
In round one of the post-season, the Jr. Cents knocked off the fourth-place Summerland Jets 2-0 in their best-of-three series. They then stunned the number-one-seed Kelowna Jr. Rockets 2-1 in their second-round series.
Against Kelowna, the Tracker team lost its captain, Malik Miller, for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
The Merritt-Chase final was a rough-and-tumble affair with the Broncos accumulating over 140 minutes in penalties in the two games, compared to just 42 for Merritt.
In the end, discipline, timely scoring, solid team defense and Stead’s great goaltending combined to ensure the victory for the Tracker Sportswear midgets.
“I don’t think that we ever doubted ourselves, or doubted our ability to do it,” Merritt head coach Tyler Robinson said. “It was just a matter of bearing down. We knew that in a playoff round of three games versus anybody, we’d be tough to play against.”
Robinson went on to add, “I’ve coached in the Cariboo and in the Kootenays as well. This is by far the toughest division to come out of in terms of making it to Provincials. I’m pretty sure it’s the only one in the province that has three full rounds to go through.”
Robinson praised his players for their commitment and perseverance. He also thanked his great parent group for all their support, and his assistant coaches — Wright and Cole Yurkowski — for all their help on the bench.
A total of 11 teams will compete for the Provincial Tier 3 midget title in Port Alberni in March. In addition to Merritt, other teams that have already qualified are Quesnel, Whitehorse, Dawson Creek, Victoria and Castlegar. Four more teams have yet to be named.