PORT HARDY—For the first time in the four years of the Gilbert Walkus Memorial Jr. Memorial Hockey Classic, young Braden Walkus failed to get the ceremonial opening breakaway shot into the Port Hardy Bulls net.
But if the Bulls thought that was an omen of things to come, they were sadly mistaken.
Shelby Cockell scored a natural hat trick in the opening period, goaltender Jason Saunders claimed a shutout between the pipes and Corey Swain had a hand in every goal as the Port Hardy Warriors topped the Bulls 4-0 Saturday at Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena.
It was the fourth straight win for the Warriors in honour of their fallen teammate, Gil Walkus, who died along with Peter Charlie and Patricia Charlie in an apartment fire on New Year’s Day, 2010.
Since then, the two local men’s hockey league rivals have gathered on the opening weekend of the new year to pay tribute to the standout who, in his final full season of play, led the North Island Commercial League in scoring.
This year’s game was not confirmed until two days prior to puck drop, and was organized by Leigh Deans with assistance from Brian Texmo and the quick response of players from both teams.
The evening began with a brief introduction by Texmo, a minute of silence for Walkus, and then the commemorative puck drop and breakaway shot by Braden Walkus, 11, Gilbert’s oldest son.
“Every year, it’s not the countdown to Christmas for Bray, it’s the countdown to the Warriors-Bulls classic!” Crystal Walkus, Braden’s mother and Gilbert’s widow, wrote on the event’s Facebook page.
Each of the past three seasons the youngster scored the opening goal when the Bulls’ netminders allowed him openings. Braden this time attempted a one-handed push shot to the far post while skating right-to-left through the slot. Bulls goalie Colin Hunko dropped into the butterfly and got a toe pad on the puck, redirecting it to the post where it bounced off and came to a stop.
Hunko had less success with Cockell, who scored almost identical shots from the slot off assists from Swain at 4:20 and 7:11 of the first period to stake the Warriors to a 2-0 lead. Cockell made it 3-0 at 11:36 of the period when he lifted a rebound into an open net after Hunko’s save on Quinn Mellow left the goalie out of the net. Swain had the second assist on the goal.
It remained a 3-0 game through a mostly scoreless second period, despite brisk, back-and-forth play between the teams.
Swain finally capped the scoring at 18:13, finishing a nifty 2-on-1 rush by feeding teammate Eddie Walkus and tapping in the quick return pass after Hunko moved to cut off Walkus’s angle.