BURNABY — Jeevan Dhaliwal didn’t know the precise history his Panorama Ridge Thunder were attempting to exorcise when the B.C. senior boys Triple-A soccer season kicked off back in September.
All he knew was that after losing in back-to-back B.C. championship final matches over his first two years with the Surrey soccer powerhouse, he wasn’t about to settle for anything less than the grand prize in 2019.
So when he scored the opening goal 20 minutes into the 2019 B.C. Triple-A championship final game on Saturday at Burnaby Lake, and it wound up holding as the winner in a 3-0 victory over the crosstown L.A. Matheson Mustangs in the tourney’s first-ever all-Surrey final, Dhaliwal wasn’t about to gloss over the details of the daily process which carried his team to the top.
“It was bittersweet to say the least, getting to the finals but then losing two years in row,” said the talented winger Tuesday of falling to Dr. Charles Best of Coquitlam in 2017 and Vancouver College in 2018. “But I feel like our coaches have just stayed with us through the process since we came together in Grade 8, and they gave us a boost of confidence before every game.”
Since tournament records have been kept since 1970, only two other teams had ever been to at least three straight top-tiered B.C. senior boys soccer finals, and neither of them had even lost two straight, let alone the three straight Panorama Ridge would incur with a loss.
The Burnaby North Vikings played in four straight championship games from 1970-73 with a streak of win, loss, win, tie.
And Victoria’s Mt. Douglas Rams also appeared in four straight from 1990-93, winning the first title behind the play of MVP Steve Nash, then following with a loss, a win, and then a loss.
“This year, I told myself that we’re winning,” continued Dhaliwal, the only player to have played in each of the team’s last three provincial finals. “I told myself that with all of the talent we have, that we’re ready and it was going to be all or nothing.”
Off a free kick by talented Grade 11 midfielder Sevak Lehal, Dhaliwal took control of the ball and just outside the penalty area, cracked home a shot to the top corner which held to the half.
With about 15 minutes remaining in the game, a well-played ball inside the 18-yard box was converted for a 2-0 lead by senior Rosedeep Dhanoa.
Then, in injury time, Grade 11 Armaan Bhagwani made a skillful foray down the wing, and beat the keeper to the far post to make the 3-0 final complete.
“All year long, we wanted to be the team that other teams would have to make adjustments against,” said Panorama Ridge coach Darryl Vanderark, who coaches the team along with Haider Khan, Paul Nowakowski and Ryan Deo. “For us, it was wanting to come out and play our game plan. Always defence first, but then in the final third, be as creative as you like.”
It was a winning recipe right from the start of the season, and even when the Thunder took over the No. 1 spot in the provincial rankings and defended it in every match they played for the majority of the season, they were seemingly the team that dictated terms and tempo.
Jeevan Dhaliwal said afterwards that a pre-game appeal he made to his teammates was clearly taken to heart.
“Before the game, I told my teammates ‘This is my last year, and I am going to play my heart out for you and I hope you are going to do the same,’” Dhaliwal relayed Tuesday. “Then, over the first five-to-10 minutes of the game, I saw them do that. The way we took control through the middle with (tournament MVP) Manmeet (Jhutty) and Sevak was huge. It helped build our attack, and I could see our defence gaining confidence because of the way we were winning the ball there.”
Both sets of stands were filled for the match, and Vanderark admits it was comforting to see so many of the program’s alums out to offer their support, including Kerman Pannu, the MVP from the Thunder’s most recent championship team (2015).
And as the championship final wound down, and the Thunder gathered to celebrate, it seemed clear that they were just one of those teams whose qualities went beyond their extensive skill and depth.
“If any of them were feeling the pressure, they weren’t showing it,” said Vanderark. “The locker room was calm and focussed before the game. They knew the role they had to play and they did really well with that. But they were pretty focussed all year. They didn’t talk about the provincials. Just about winning the next half… winning the next ball.”
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