67’s prospects Nelson, Kingwell capture CCHL title

There was no panic in the Navan Grads after dropping Game 5 to the Smiths Falls Bears 5-0, bringing the series score to 3-2 in the battle for the CCHL’s Bogart Cup.

Ahead of the game on Wednesday night, 67’s prospect Shaan Kingwell sat in the seats of the Smiths Falls Memorial Centre chatting with his teammates, while Jaeden Nelson sat a few rows down, completing his pregame math questions, aimed to get his brain warmed up.

In front of 1,185 fans and a buzzing arena, the Grads cruised to their first-ever Bogart Cup championship with a 5-2 victory.

“It’s unreal,” Nelson said. “To do this at the junior level in my first year means a lot, but it’s about more than just me, I wanted to do this for the 20 [year olds] and all of the guys on the team who haven’t been able to experience this. It feels fantastic.”

In the postseason, Nelson started all 17 of Navan’s games, winning 12, boasting a .932 save percentage and a pair of shutouts. In the finals, the Ottawa native outdueled Ohio State commit Dawson Labre, one of the top goaltenders in the league.

“He’s an unreal goalie, and he was doing his job all series,” Nelson said. “He’s part of a great team on the other side, but I just had to worry about myself and do what I could, and I trusted in my guys.”

At the young age of 16, Nelson’s efforts were a big reason the Grads are on their way to the Centennial Cup, and his incredible performance was recognized by the league, earning the playoff MVP award.

Humble as always, Nelson downplayed his accomplishment, instead turning the focus on the rest of the team.

“I don’t even know where I put the trophy,” Nelson said laughing. “I have to be honest, it doesn’t matter. The win and this group are what mean everything to me. That award doesn’t happen without the guys in front of me blocking shots and battling.”

Kingwell took a very similar approach all season long. A solid rookie season saw him named to the CCHL’s All-Rookie team, and in the postseason, the success continued, scoring five goals and eight points in 17 games.

He says he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what he did if not for the people surrounding him, that helped lift him to new heights, and pushed him to be the best version of himself every time he touched the ice.

“I have so many role models on this team,” Kingwell said. “There are some really nice guys on this team who took me under their wing, guys like Gabriel Crete and Devon Savignac who were on my line, it was just unreal, a great year.”

On paper, the Grads figured to have a good shot to be the top team in the CCHL all season long, but never in his wildest dreams did Kingwell believe they could achieve this level of success.

“Coming into the year, I knew we were going to be good, but this never even crossed my mind,” he said. “I love this group so much, and I wouldn’t have wanted to do this with anyone else.”

Now, the focus shifts quickly to the Centennial Cup, which will begin this week in Oakville, Ontario. The Grads will face Collège Français de Longueuil (LHJQ), the Greater Sudbury Cubs (NOJHL), the Collingwood Blues (OJHL) and the Calgary Canucks (AJHL) in the round robin, with the goal of clinching a berth in the elimination round.

The tournament will be another bonding opportunity in the blossoming friendship between Nelson and Kingwell, one that they hope can continue at the next level.

“We’re two 16-year-olds, and I Iove riding to the rink with him,” Nelson said. “I love him, he’s the best.”