Jeff Shipton, the captain and centre for the Fort St. John Senior Flyers, won the Campbell Cup in his first year with the team, the 2008-09 season. Who could have guessed he would have to wait until his 10th season with the team until he would hoist the Campbell Cup again?
But that’s how long it took the Flyers to get back to the NPHL final and win the Campbell Cup, which they did on March 13, beating the Falher Pirates 7-6 and taking the final series in five games to end an outstanding 2017-18 season.
It wasn’t all disappointment for the Flyers, however. Following the Campbell Cup-winning team in 2009, the Flyers were deemed ineligible to participate in the NPHL playoffs, because they were playing at a triple A level. Basically, they were too good.
As a result, the Flyers spent four seasons focused on the prestigious Allan Cup, which they hosted and won in 2010, and the Savage Cup, awarded to the best triple A team in B.C. But the inability to compete in a full season and playoffs was lacking. The team returned to double A and NPHL playoff eligibility in 2013-14, but the Campbell Cup eluded them for four years, until last week.
“It’s been a long, heavy grind. But this is what we play for every year and this one is right up there,” Shipton said.
Paul van Nostrand, president of the Flyers since 2008, was appreciative of all who helped the Flyers reach this level.
“It’s a great feeling and accomplishment by our organization. It’s very satisfying to finally achieve that this year,” he said.
The Flyers have been a good team since their return to double A status for the 2013-14 season, but were never able to reach the NPHL final, as the division rival Spirit Rangers made it and won the Campbell Cup four straight years. The Rangers did not ice an NPHL team this year, but nine former Rangers played for the Falher Pirates, who the Huskies beat in the final.
“I think it made it sweeter to be able to win the Campbell Cup against those guys,” said Lee Hartman, the general manager of the Flyers who took over the position at the start of the 2013-14 season.
When asked what it was about this version of the Flyers that made the team successful, van Nostrand was quick to sing praises of Shipton.
“The Flyers have seen a lot of fantastic leaders, and Jeff is right at the top of the list. I can’t emphasize enough what an honest and clean player he is, and he leads by example,” van Nostrand said.
Shipton saw it a little differently.
“I think it was having new faces. Guys like (Brandon) Millin and (Lien) Miller-Jeannotte, having some youth, it feels good for the old guys like me, (Brady) Busche, (Adam) Horst and (Rick) Cleaver. It’s been the same guys in the dressing room and practice year after year, and the new guys made it a lot of fun,” Shipton said.
Despite the odds in favour of the Flyers, the team had to overcome its share of adversity this season. Fort St. John was a respectable 10-5 in league play through Jan. 17, until they were swept in the Coy Cup play-down series at the hands of the Dawson Creek Senior Canucks. The final game of that series was a heartbreaking overtime loss, and was the Flyers’ third straight loss including NPHL regular season games.
“It’s obviously unfortunate it happened, but since that happened we barely lost a game, and it just clicked at the right time,” said goaltender Travis McLean, who was named the NPHL Playoff MVP.
The Flyers had a dominant 12-0-2 record, regular season and playoffs included, after the loss to Dawson Creek on Jan. 21.
“Our guys said, ‘Our season isn’t over with, we’ve got something to prove,’ and that showed,” Leriger said.
It’s a fitting end to the season for a storied team with a winning tradition.
“We take a lot of pride in being a Flyer,” McLean said.
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at firstname.lastname@example.org.