The Herder Memorial Trophy was "ripped away" from the Clarenville Caribous by a goal that should never have counted, according to Caribous coach Rebecca Russell.
The winning goal in the deciding Game 5 of the Herder did not enter the net legally, Russell contends, and she says video recordings of the play make it clear.
The Conception Bay CeeBee Stars claimed the Herder on Sunday afternoon with a 4-3 win over the Caribous. Kenny King threw the puck into the net from the corner with about four minutes left in the third period to give the CeeBees the lead.
But immediately after the play, Caribous goalie Jason Churchill — along with other members of the team — pleaded with the officials that the puck entered the net through a space underneath the goal, and not legally through the front of the net.
Russell said video that was captured of the play proves her team was right.
"I'm watching that circulate all over social media, not only provincially but nationally, a very clear cut video of it actually sliding under the net and not actually through the post," Russell said Monday.
"It's much more frustrating than it is anything else to watch that and watch how clearly it did slide under the net."
Caribous General Manager Ivan Hapgood said the team has filed a protest with Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador over the incident.
"As far as we're concerned, as a team, the game never ended. In order to score a goal, the puck must cross the goal line, and the puck never did cross the goal line, which is pretty evident. And we want Hockey Newfoundland- Labrador to correct a wrong and make it right."
Hapgood said the game should be replayed — either in part or totally — but he's not confident that will happen.
Russell said the officials immediately called it a goal, but should have spent more time consulting on the ice before the call was finalized.
Despite pressure in the final minutes, the Caribous were unable to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Russell said it was a heartbreaking loss for her team.
"Our boys and our organization had a Herder championship which meant a lot to us — just like it did to the CeeBees — taken away from us over something that shouldn't have counted," she told CBC Radio's Central Morning.
Feels like a Stanley Cup defeat
She said the Herder means a lot to hockey players in the province, and the loss hurts a lot.
"Maybe it's not the NHL and it's not the Stanley Cup, but to us, in that moment, it sure feels like it."
Russell said she felt a victory was even more important than usual for her team, given the rocky financial start the Caribous had to their season, and the lingering questions about the future of the Caribous and the CWSHL.
"We felt that we needed to do this for our organization, and to hopefully keep it alive," she said.
"And to have it ripped away in such a manner that we had it ripped away yesterday, it's really disappointing and disheartening for the organization and the town."
Live and die by the calls: CeeBee president
Meanwhile, CeeBee Stars president Mark Reynolds told CBC Radio's On The Go that he knows the result was a tough one for the Caribous — but in hockey, you live and die by the calls made on the ice.
"Anybody who's played any level of sports understands that you win and lose sometimes on calls. It's a part of the game," he said.
"It was an unfortunate way to lose. However for us, when the buzzer went … the score was 4 to 3. So we're celebrating a Herder victory."
Reynolds said his players celebrated like any other hockey player would, and brushed off criticism it was disingenuous for his team to celebrate after the puck slid through the side of the net.
"The speed of the game and it happens so quickly. [King] didn't know but it went off … the pad and went to the back of the net."