No need to wait to celebrate anymore, the Thunder Bay Chill have clinched the Premier Development League’s Heartland Division title with a 2-1 win Friday over the Rochester Thunder.
The Chill, who claimed their third Heartland Division title in four years, were led by a pair of goals from striker Brandon Swartzendruber.
The team also learned it will host next weekend's conference championship, a four-team tournament that will send the winner to the national semifinal round.
Chill coach Tony Colistro said the announcement is huge for the team, which in years past had struggled to convince the PDL's powers that be the team was capable of handling an event of this size.
It doesn't hurt that at 12-1-2, the Chill have the best record in the Central Conference. Colistro's just glad he doesn't have to hit the highway and can spend the next week concentrating on what it takes to beat their yet-to-be-determined opponent.
In the running are Forest City London, Michigan and Chicago. Two of the three teams will earn playoff spots and the Chill will play the team with the worst record. Rochester will play the top team in the cross-over format.
Colistro isn't thinking about that just yet.
"To host the conference championship and have three other teams come up here is great," said Colistro, who lost bids in 2007 and 2008 and had to take his team on the road to Michigan for the postseason. "It was a struggle because all the bids were good. We spent a lot of time on the phone with the league to really fight our position here."
The event will face stiff competition, most notably from the World Junior Baseball Championship, but Colistro said he still hopes fans will crowd into the Chapples Field stands, especially when they realize what's at stake.
"I don’t think people in Thunder Bay realize how big this league is," he said. "When you’re talking about 70 teams, you aren’t talking about our six team division … now we get to go against the rest of North America."
It wasn't all fun and games for the Chill against the Thunder, who could have caught Thunder Bay for the division title with a pair of wins this weekend.
Thunder forward Juan Chang caught the Chill napping and scored the visiting teams only goal of the match, and it was 2-1 at the half.
The Chill turned on the heat and kept Thunder Goalie Sebastian Narvaez on his toes with a few near misses and a couple dings from the goal post.
In the end two goals was all they'd need.
Swartzendruber said he was glad to bring his team a victory and clinch the Central Conference.
"I wish we had won last week but it was a great game tonight and a good game to win," Swartzendruber said. "We like to go at teams. We don’t like to play differently to other team’s strengths we like them to change for us."
Last Saturday’s tie to the Real Colorado Foxes, played heavily on his mind, he said. The team played too relaxed last week and hoped he and his teammates wouldn’t have a repeat performance Saturday, he said.
Swartzendruber said they tried to keep possession of the ball as much as possible to ensure the Thunder came to them. He added the team stayed positive, which was lacking in last week’s game.
"I Think we were a lot more comfortable tonight than (at our last game)," he said. "You can’t relax for even a minute, especially at the playoffs. At any given day another team could win do you got to come out and be the team that plays harder."
Chill forward Gustavo Oliveira assisted Swartzendruber on both goals. He said it felt great to finally to get the ball into the net after all the chances and opportunities missed last week.
"We knew we had to work hard and get creative," Oliveira said. "We were going to score; even if it was only two or three. Next week is the playoffs so we know how to do better."
Despite being division champions in the past, Oliveira said they had to work hard to get where they are today and work even harder to achieve their goal of national champions.
Colistro said the focus for his team was securing their win on Friday and glad to have that victory under his belt.
"We have to treat every game like if it were a playoff game," Colistro said. "This was important. I told the guys, yes a tie would get us through but we have to win games and keep that mentality."
The games begin on Friday with the winner of the Great Lakes Division playing against Rochester at 3 p.m. followed by the Chill game at 5:30 p.m.
The final is slated for Saturday at 5:30 p.m. All games are at Chapples Park.