Airdrie’s Jake Neighbours was dealt a disappointing blow when Alberta’s under-16 squad fell in the WHL Cup Final to British Columbia in overtime Oct. 22.
Coming into the tournament winning the past three WHL Cups, Alberta was labeled the team to beat and B.C. was able to knock the defending champs off with a heartbreaking 4-3 overtime win at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary.
“We had high expectations of ourselves and, me being the captain, I wanted to lead the way to victory,” Neighbours said. “(The WHL Cup) was truly a great first experience in the Hockey Alberta program.
“I’ll look back on the memories, not the results.”
Since the tournament’s inception in 2009, Alberta has been the top team in Canada capturing five WHL Cup titles. With this win, B.C. has two titles under its belt. A tournament was not held in 2014 due to the Canada Winter Games.
Alberta came into the tournament like a wrecking ball, dominating Saskatchewan and B.C. in it first two round-robin games, Oct. 18 and 19, and winning a close 4-3 contest against Manitoba to complete a perfect 3-0-0 record.
“We were playing well. The first two games were really good,” Neighbours said.
“Obviously, Manitoba wasn’t our best game. We weren’t happy with the way we performed even with the win, but it was a wake-up call for our team.”
Alberta got the opportunity to right that wrong Oct. 21 in the semi-finals, where it matched up against Manitoba for the second time in as many days.
The Alberta squad trounced Manitoba 7-1 and punched its ticket to the final.
In the fight for gold, Alberta got off to a quick start going up 2-0 on B.C., but the western-most province brought the game back to a tie before the end of the second period.
B.C. then put the pressure on Alberta, scoring 20 seconds into the final frame and holding on to a one-goal lead until the final minutes, when Neighbours helped set up a Connor McClennon power-play goal to force overtime.
It didn’t take long for the emotional high to hit a major low as B.C. scored less than three minutes into overtime, capturing its first WHL Cup since 2012.
At the tournament, Neighbours was reunited with a pair of former linemates from his time at the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy last season when he was put on a line with Kyle Crnkovic and McClennon.
“It was amazing, I missed playing with them. They are so easy to play with,” Neighbours said. “We gel so well together and have great chemistry.
“Parting ways this year wasn’t the easiest thing to do…but they are two of my best friends. To see them and play with them again was special.”
The line was the most dominant in the tournament, amassing a huge amount of points with all three finishing in the top four spots in scoring. Neighbours finished the tournament with seven points (1g, 6a) in five games.
Neighbours won’t get much time to dwell on the disappointing finish in Calgary as he turns his attention to his regular season with the Calgary Buffaloes in the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League.
“(Getting back into the season) keeps your mind off things,” Neighbours said.
“I’ve got something else to focus on now, so my mind won’t be stuck on that heartbreaking loss.”