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Previously unwanted goaltenders have chance to shine in RBC Cup final @NHL

VICTORIA, B.C. - Andrew Hammond and Mathieu LaRochelle know what it's like to be unwanted.

On Sunday, one of the goaltenders will also know what it's like to win the RBC Cup as they try to prove their old clubs wrong.

Hammond will start for Vernon as the Vipers seek a record fifth national junior title while LaRochelle, playing for his third team in three different leagues this season, gets the nod for the defending champion Humboldt Broncos.

"I've been a bit of a late bloomer, so it's definitely worked out well for me," said Hammond of his move to Vernon last season.

LaRochelle, a 19-year-old native of Amos, Que., has made an unexpected, circuitous trip back to the RBC Cup final. He watched from the bench as a backup while Humboldt beat his Camrose Kodiaks in the 2008 national Junior A championship game in Cornwall, Ont.

"He's been battling ever since we got him," said Humboldt general manager and coach Dean Brockman. "I think he's just that kind of character guy that won't be denied."

LaRochelle began the season with Camrose before being dealt to Wellington of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. About a month later, Humboldt acquired him for future considerations, but he was not about to complain about another move.

"When I was with Wellington and I got traded to Humboldt, I knew that we had a good shot at coming here again," said LaRochelle.

Brockman had scouted LaRochelle while he played midget for the Notre Dame Hounds in Wilcox, Sask. The coach also liked what he saw of him when he played for Camrose against Humboldt in the round-robin segment of last year's RBC Cup. He said LaRochelle's experience at last year's tourney will be a key factor against Vernon, which hammered Humboldt 7-1 while going undefeated in four round-robin games.

"All along, we've heard his side of the fence, when he lost to us last year and watched that last save," said Brockman. "He took it from a different approach. We were used to being on the winning end of it and he was on the losing end of it, so he has a lot to bring to the table as far as he knows what it's like to lose."

LaRochelle, who has a 1-1 mark and 2.43 goals-against average in the tournament, will try to help Humboldt join Vernon, then known as the Lakers (1990 and 1991), and the Prince Albert Raiders (1981 and 1982) as the only teams that have won back-to-back national junior A titles. He earned Sunday's start after making 38 saves including 11 in overtime as the Broncos edged the host Victoria Grizzlies 3-2 in their semifinal victory.

Ironically, Brockman initially acquired him for the purpose of backing up Andrew Bodnarchuk who has been hampered by injury this season and struggled at times as the Broncos posted a 2-2 record in round-robin play and suffered lopsided losses to Vernon and the last-place Summerside Western Capitals.

Hammond, a former defenceman who did not start playing in goal regularly until he was 13, was also destined for a backup role if he stayed with his former Surrey Eagles club after it brought in another goalie to replace him as No. 1.

But he obtained an unexpected opportunity with Vernon in 2007-08 when former starter Bryce Christianson received a rare mid-season scholarship offer from the University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves. The offer came after one of the Alaska-Anchorage goalies was struck by a puck in the eye while sitting on the bench and suffered a detached retina.

"It was right at the trade deadline," recalled Vernon general manager and coach Mark Ferner. "We certainly phoned around and, obviously, tried to get the best one. (Hammond) was available. It's funny how things happen."

"(Surrey) asked me if I'd like to make the move and I said yes, and obviously it's been probably the best choice I've made in my career," said Hammond. "I was living at home and it was tough. It was one of those things when there's a change and you're moving away from home for the first time. It made it a lot easier knowing I was going to a good place."

Now, he has a chance to help Vernon carve its place in history. The Prince Albert Raiders are the only other team that has won four national junior A crowns.

"We've talked about (the record) all year," said Hammond, who has posted four wins and a 2.41 goals against average in the tournament. "This has been our goal and I think we've been just getting ourselves ready all season to get up to this point. It would mean a lot, I mean, for the city and, obviously, for all of us and especially the 20-year-olds to go out like this."

Hammond will play the final game of his junior career Sunday before heading to play on a scholarship at Bowling Green State University in Ohio next season. Ferner said his goaltender's low-panic threshold will be a key against the defending champion Broncos.

"He's a real calming influence back there for us," said Ferner.

NOTES: Both teams have twin scoring threats, Connor and Kellen Jones of Vernon and Steven and Scott Schroeder of Humboldt. ... There's a distinct American influence in this Canadian championship. Vernon has nine Americans, mostly from California, on its roster. They were heavily recruited by Ferner, a former journeyman pro who played briefly for the Anaheim Ducks.

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