By Joel van der Veen
CRAIK — It was as exciting a series as they come.
The Craik Warriors earned their league title with blood, sweat and tears this year, defeating the Foam Lake Flyers in a full five-game series to become the Wheatland Senior Hockey League champions.
The team hosted the fifth game on March 26 before a packed house, estimated at more than 200 spectators, at the Craik Memorial Rink.
The Warriors led throughout in a highly physical game, ending with a 5-3 win.
“It was a hard-fought series,” said manager Rick Reich. “Our guys, they buckled down and got the job done. . . You couldn’t have wrote it any better.”
Besides the hard work, Reich said the team’s success in the playoffs was partly due to its strength on special teams and its penalty kills.
The games with Foam Lake were close and there was no room to relax, he said.
“If you took a shift off, you paid for it,” Reich said, adding that the teams were generally evenly matched. “Seemed like we maybe wanted it just a little bit more.”
The teams played the last three games in the series on the same weekend. Between the gameplay and the travel, Reich said it made for a long three days.
The championship caps a strong year for the senior team, with 37 games played altogether and only six losses, including three regular-season games, one provincial game and two league playoff games.
The Warriors had a short run in this year’s provincial “C” playoffs, losing to Bredenbury in the second round.
However, they were unstoppable in league playoffs, beating the Allan Flames in three straight games to win the south division final before taking on Foam Lake.
The team won back-to-back league titles in 2009-10 and 2010-11, but had been denied ever since. Last year the Warriors reached the league finals but came up short against the Naicam Vikings.
Reich said this year’s lineup was the best they’ve ever had, but also noted it’s necessary to keep growing and improving as league play becomes ever more competitive.
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