Backstops Leamington Flyers to a GOJHL game seven shutout of Stratford Warriors
May 13, 2023
By Rob J. Ross
AYLMER, Ont. - Bryce Walcarius is a Sutherland Cup champion.
The Aylmer native made 20 saves as the Leamington Flyers shutout the Stratford Warriors, 4-0, in game seven of the Greater Ontario Junior (B) Hockey League championship final May 9 in front of a packed house of 2,200 spectators at Stratford.
"Oh, it's still surreal to me. I think this is the first time I've picked up my phone since we won and I'm still shocked that we won it," Walcarius said Thursday. "I honestly didn't even realize I got a shutout until yesterday. I was just caught up in the moment of getting that win."
After a scoreless first 20 minutes, Connor MacPherson scored twice in a eight minute span in the second period. The Flyers added two more goals in the third period, including am empty netter with two minutes remaining in the game. Then the countdown was on.
"The feeling was amazing. You almost can't even put it into words," Walcarius said. "Before the game our coach said we had been together since August 15th, so putting in all of that work all year to achieve the goal we set out for is better than anything I could ever imagine. This probably is the best moment of my career so far, and I don't think there's any other group of guys I'd rather win it with."
Leamington opened the Cup final with a pair of 4-1 wins and led the series, three games to one, following a 4-2 home win on May 4. But Stratford won games five and six, sending the championship to a decisive seventh game.
Losing back to back games didn't panic the Flyers.
"Honestly we just talked together as a team and made sure that each guy knew that we hadn't lost anything yet," Walcarius said. "We knew we just needed to win one game, just like they (Stratford) were trying to do. We just knew if we went out and played out game that we'd come out on the good side of it."
Connor MacPherson with a hat trick and Ryan MacPherson scored in game seven. Ryan led all playoff scorers with 38 points in 24 games, while Connor was third with 34 points, including 20 goals.
"I got to owe like 99 per cent of all of this to my teammates honestly I keep the puck out of the next, but they're the ones doing all the work to win," Walcarius said. 'The Macs (Connor, Ryan) honestly could be the best players I've ever played with. They just have a nack of putting the puck in the net. As soon as I heard they were coming back to Leamington for this season, I knew that we'd have an awesome team."
Leamington finished first in the GOJHL Western Conference with a 35-11-4-0 record.
"I think from the start of the year with the group we had, we all knew that we could make something special out of this season," Walcarius said. "Our goal was to take this as far as we could."
Named the conference's top goalie and first team all-star, Walcarius won 20 games with a 2.32 goals-against average (GAA) and .911 save percentage. He was GOJHL goalie of the month for December.
During the playoffs, the six-foot three keeper went 17-6, lowering his GAA to 1.90 and upping his save percentage to .933.
Walcarius grew up in Aylmer, playing minor hockey with the Aylmer Flames and Elgin-Middlesex Canucks (Chiefs), while attending Assumption elementary and St. Joe's high school. Elgin-Middlesex won Alliance major atom, minor peewee, minor bantam and major midget titles with Walcarius between the pipes, along with numerous tournaments.
His GOJHL debut was one game with the Komoka Kings as a 16-year old, before 10 games each with the London Nationals and Chatham Maroons during the 2019-20 season. Last season, Walcarius won 20 games for the St. Marys Lincolns, with a 2.64 GAA and .912 save percentage. That season Walcarius was GOJHL goalie of the month for December (2021).
Up next for the 21-year old are hopes to bring the Sutherland Cup to his former schools and a break from the action while looking into possibly attending a school south of the border.
Owen Willmore, of St. Thomas, made 33 saves in the Stratford net and was the busier goalie, not only in game seven, but throughout the series.
Walcarius and Willmore have known each other since their minor hockey days and were briefly teammates.
"We've just always been tight and have always wanted what's best for each other," said Walcarius. "We would usually just have a chat before or after each game about how we thought the game went, or how things happened during the game, and before games would just catch up on what's been going on, me looking at schools or him with the (London) Knights."
Both will likely always remember the 2023 Sutherland Cuo final. Walcarius, of course, with the bigger smile.
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