PORT HARDY—The Port Hardy Bulls finally discovered the secret to ending the rival Warriors’ mastery of the annual Gilbert Walkus Memorial Game.
Keep them off the scoreboard.
Blueliner Dylan Dirom scored a shorthanded goal in the first five minutes and goalie Colin Hunko and his defence made it stand up as the Bulls notched a 1-0 win and snapped the Warriors’ unbeaten run in the fifth year of the memorial showdown.
“We all went out with a good attitude and decided to have some fun,” said Dirom. “We’ve had five years to catch up; I’m glad we got the ‘W’.”
The game is played in honour of former Warrior standout Gilbert Walkus Jr., who died in an apartment fire along with two other people on New Year’s day in 2010. A tribute game between the Bulls and Warriors was played later that month, and the following year the memorial game was established as an annual event.
“This is probably twice as intense as a regular-season game (against the Warriors),” Dirom said. “We look forward to it all year, and the crowd that comes out is always so supportive. We want to put on a good show for them.”
The game is traditionally played the first weekend of each year, but this year’s contest was delayed two weeks and put together on just five-days’ notice. Still, a sizeable audience was on hand to observe a minute of silence and watch as Gil’s sons, Braden and Bryce, both scored ceremonial shootout goals against Hunko before the official puck drop.
Braden, now 12, has taken the shot each of the five years of the memorial. Bryce, who turned 10 the next day, was taking part for the first time but calmly skated in and lifted a forehand shot over Hunko’s left leg pad and just inside the post as the crowd cheered.
That was the last time Hunko turned to scoop a puck out of the net.
With the Bulls displaying a solid forecheck in the early going, even on the team’s first penalty kill, Dirom converted a cross from Ethan Shaw from the right point at 4:36. The shot appeared to be redirected in traffic, and Dirom said teammate Darryl Coon Jr. claimed to have tipped it.
“I’ll give him credit,” Dirom said with a smile.
Both teams had solid chances the remainder of the period, but Hunko and Warriors netminder Jason Saunders were each up to the task.
Hunko got much busier in the second and final period, when the Warriors turned up the pressure and were aided by a string of Bulls penalties. The final 4:11 provided numerous scoring opportunities for the Warriors, who enjoyed a pair of power plays and skated 6-on-4 over the final minute after pulling Saunders for an extra attacker. But when Hunko failed to smother a shot, his mates were there to clear it from harm’s way.
“We played really hard on defence and keyed on their top guys,” said Dirom. “And our goaltender stood on his head. Hunko was outstanding.”