It almost wasn't to be for the University of Victoria.
The team that had nothing handed to them all year was just 36 seconds away from an unlikely BCIHL championship when Trinity Western's Jarret Fontaine played spoiler, scoring a short-handed goal that seemed like it would almost certainly send the game to overtime and shift momentum in favour of the Spartans.
But fifth year Vike Shawn Mueller had other plans, scoring the game winner with just seven seconds left on the clock to send the underdog Vikes to a huge 3-2 Game 3 victory at the Langley Events Centre and their fourth BCIHL title in 11 seasons.
"It was the definition of a team effort—everyone gave it their all and that's all we needed to win it all," said Mueller. "For (fellow graduating senior Luciano Somerville) and myself we couldn't have written a better ending to our university careers, going out as champions."
Mueller's goal required something that the Vikes have mastered through an up-and-down 2016-17 season: patience. The Kitimat, B.C., native took a pass from teammate and former Victoria Royal Jack Palmer and waited a crucial extra second to lose the Trinity Western defender before firing the puck through a screen and in.
"We were still on the power play and Patrick Holland passed it over to Jack Palmer, who went cross ice to me. I walked the puck into the slot and just put one on net and it happened to go in," said Mueller, who led the Vikes in scoring during the regular season with 29 points through 24 games.
Just over a minute before Mueller's winner, Holland put the Vikes up 2-1 with his second power play goal of the night, only to watch Fontaine help his team back into the game with a short-handed goal off a shot from the point.
With momentum on their side and time ticking down, you couldn't blame the large Trinity Western crowd if they thought they were about to watch overtime. In fact, you couldn't blame the Vikes if they were feeling the same. But thankfully for UVic, they had some more magic left in the tank.
"One of the best recoveries from a goal against I have ever seen," said Vikes assistant coach James Gaertner. "Great team effort with 100 per cent buy-in from every man on the roster. It took sacrifice and dedication to pull it out."
For UVic's seniors, the moment was extra special.
"It's so surreal and I couldn't be more proud of our team—absolutely unbelievable," said Somerville. "This is the best possible scenario to end our UVic hockey careers. We have dreamt about this for 5 years and now it's here."
The game-winning goal was the third power play marker for UVic on the night, as they turned a perfect performance on the man advantage. That special teams performance turned out to be a big boost for a team that ranked fourth of five teams in the BCIHL with a 15 per cent success rate during the regular season.
The Vikes also shutout the Spartans on the penalty kill, thanks in large part to the play of backstop Michael Fredrick. Fredrick was spectacular for the Vikes all night, stopping 37 of 39 shots to finish with a .949 save percentage.
The Lethbridge, Alberta, native was key to the Vikes turnaround in the series after they lost their opener 5-0 in front of a home crowd. Fredrick, who hadn't started a playoff game yet in 2017, got the call on Saturday night and turned in a 27-save performance in a 2-1 overtime win in Langley.
He was just one of many key performers for the Vikes throughout the playoffs, a list highlighted by former Montreal Canadiens' prospect Holland. The 25-year-old from Lethbridge put up four goals and a team-high 11 points through five playoff games after registering 14 goals and 28 points in the regular season.
Palmer, no stranger to Victoria sports fans after spending parts of two seasons with the Victoria Royals, also had a strong post-season for the Vikes. The homegrown forward had seven goals and nine points in 10 regular season games before exploding for six assists and nine points in the playoffs.
The 2017 BCIHL banner is the first for the Vikes men's hockey program since they defeated Simon Fraser in the 2012 final. Victoria, who also won titles in 2007 and 2009, becomes the first team other than Selkirk College to win a title since 2012.