The Tri-Port Wild were determined to win gold this time at the 2nd annual Celebration of Women’s Hockey Tournament, and that’s exactly what they did.
The tournament took place Oct. 21-23 at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena in Port Hardy, and it was an incredible weekend of non-stop female hockey action, which featured around-the-clock games between four midget teams, two bantam teams, and the Tri-Port intro girls program.
The tournament wasn’t only about hockey, though. “We formed a committee of volunteers who came up with some fun events to hold,” said Tournament Organizer Lisa Brown. “This year we had a Halloween party Saturday night, a luncheon, and we also did a scavenger hunt, which was a new one for the girls.”
Brown stated that planning a tournament like this usually starts “about three months ahead of time. The committee divides up the work and everyone does their part in making it become a reality.”
The Celebration of Women’s Hockey Tournament is more than “just your average tournament,” said Brown, adding that the committee “really looks at it as a way of getting people to come out and see what female hockey is all about. We want the local communities to watch the games, support the female hockey players, help them see that female hockey can be every bit as competitive as boy’s hockey, and it really gives the girls their opportunity to shine.”
And shine they did.
The Wild opened the tournament Friday night with a game against their league rivals, the Sooke Thunderbirds.
The Thunderbirds had previously defeated the Wild in the finals of the tournament last year, and they were more than ready to try and win it again this year.
The game started out with the Thunderbirds getting the first goal at 9:58 of the 1st period, but the Wild’s Kerrigan Sharpe tied it up at 5:41 with a beautiful point shot goal through traffic.
The Thunderbirds took the lead back with a goal of their own at 2:28, only for Mercedes Trevor to score with 1:04 left in the period to make it 2-2.
Into the 2nd period, both teams were battling hard for possession of the puck and getting some great chances at each end of the ice, but neither team was able to get the go-ahead goal.
The Wild came alive offensively in the 3rd period, and Trevor scored her second goal of the game at 13:25.
The Thunderbirds refused to lay down and die, and they ultimately netted the tying goal with 8:06 left, which was how the first game of the tournament came to a close 3-3.
The Wild’s coach Andrew Laming thought the team’s first game “Went awesome. The girls were just getting warmed up. It was a good start for sure. They worked hard and it was very back and forth. Sooke had a better start, but we had our moments as well.”
The Wild had their second game of the tournament Saturday morning against the Cowichan Valley Capitals, who they had previously defeated at the end of their last season in a 6-1 blowout.
This game was no different.
The Capitals got out to an early lead with a goal at 9:52 of the 1st period, but that was the only time they got the puck past the Wild’s goalie Avary Miller, who was on her game making big saves all weekend long.
Trevor tied the game up at 4:30 with a goal in front of the net, and then with seven seconds left, Sharpe scored to give the Wild a 2-1 lead.
The Wild continued to score in the 2nd and 3rd periods, with another goal from Sharpe, and two more from Bree-Anna Henderson. The Wild dominated from start to finish and came away with a big 5-1 win.
“I thought they played good,” said Laming. “Bre-Anna got a couple goals, and when she’s on it really shows on the scoreboard. Kerrigan also always puts herself in good places on the ice which gives her scoring opportunities. Having Mercedes and Taylor there really frees up the ice for Kerrigan.”
When asked about their next game against the Campbell River Hurricanes (who had previously defeated the Wild 2-0 in an exhibition game to start the season), Laming shrugged and said the team was “Going make Campbell River play our game this time, and hopefully we’ll come out with the win.”
And come out with the win they did.
In what turned out be an exciting, back and forth game, the Wild pulled off a 2-1 win, with goals coming from Sharpe and Sonja Walkus.
“A one goal game is always a great one,” said Laming, adding that the win “was exciting to watch. The girls fought hard and Campbell River played hard to keep it close.”
Laming’s own personal favourite moment from the game was “a great passing play where Bree-Anna passed it to Jessie, Jessie passed it to Sonja, and Sonja put it in the net, which was pretty cool to see.”
With the two wins and one tie, the Wild collected enough points to qualify for the gold medal game against the Thunderbirds, which was held on Sunday afternoon.
In front of a large hometown crowd cheering them on from the stands, the Wild showed up ready to not let the game slip through their fingers like the previous year.
The team got out to a hot start with Sharpe punching in a goal at 12:50 of the 1st period. The Thunderbirds dug in their heels and scored a power play goal at 7:30 to tie it up 1-1, and that was how the 1st period ended.
The 2nd period was full of back and forth play, with both teams desperate to get the go-ahead goal. Miller stood tall and kept the Wild in the game with some great saves, but the Thunderbirds managed to squeak one by her at 10:12 to take a 2-1 lead.
The Wild’s captain Madison Van Will then took matters into her own hands and scored a long point shot through traffic to tie it up.
The Thunderbirds were relentless and kept attacking, and they eventually scored with 7:38 left on the clock to take a 3-2 lead going into the 3rd period.
The Wild knew they were down, but refused to admit they were out of the game just yet. They came out for the 3rd period fired up, and Taylor Ranger scored at 11:43 to tie it right back up.
Van Will then netted her second goal of the game less than 30 seconds later to give the Wild a 4-3 lead. Sharpe scored again at 6:16, and then Trevor added a beautiful breakaway insurance goal with 1:35 left to seal the 3rd period comeback win 6-3.
“The great thing about our team is there’s no clique,” said Laming after the finals. “Anyone new who comes in, they become part of the Wild family. We consider this a team. There’s no individuals on this team. Every individual makes up a part of the team and we bring it all together as one. They did some things this weekend that went above and beyond what your average team does, and it showed in the results on the ice.”
When asked what kind of a talk Laming gave the team during the second intermission when they were down by a goal, he replied that he got them pumped up to fight for the win by “talking about all the good things they did on, and off, the ice all weekend. These girls have represented the Wild organization with a lot of class. I just tell them what they need to hear so they keep elevating their game from period to period. They buy in to it and perform.”
Laming added that the reason behind the success of the program is “the girls’ attitude. They buy in to what I’m trying to teach them, and they want to learn. Kids that come in with the right attitude, the ‘work hard’ attitude, the ‘willing to learn and listen’ attitude, they’re going to improve.”
His favourite moment from the weekend was “seeing how the girls came together and helped each other off the ice,” and that he’s mainly looking forward to watching the team “keep improving, keep working hard, and keep having fun. That’s my main goals for them. To have success and to have fun doing it.”
Laming’s only expectation for the girls this season is to “show up, play as hard as they can every game, and have as much fun as they can. That’s the only real expectation I have. If they buy in to that, they’re gonna continue to have success.”
As of right now, the Wild’s upcoming season “looks great. We’ve got a couple extra girls this year that are gonna add to the skill level of the team. We’re a little better set up than we were last year, so I can see the season being even better than last.”
Brown, who’s also the Wild’s team manager, was amazed afterwards at how the tournament was received this year. “The support from the community and the volunteers was incredible. Everyone really stepped up for all of the teams that we have in the female program. The reffing was fantastic. The rink staff were excellent and supportive. The Port Hardy Minor Hockey club even switched their practice times to open up ice time for all of the girls. Several of the teams let us have their practice time on Friday, which was really amazing of them.”
Brown added that there are currently 24 girls in the Tri-Port intro hockey program, 14 on the Bantam team, and the Midget team has 16 players this year.
“In terms of numbers, female hockey is flourishing here on the North Island and we couldn’t be any prouder. The parents, the coaches, the organizers, the committee, everyone stepped up and is so happy to take part because of how much the girls show their appreciation for it. We all see how hard the girls are working towards the goal of developing as hockey players.”
When asked about life after minor hockey for female athletes, Brown was quick to point out that there’s “a number of girls in this program who could very well continue on playing hockey at the post secondary school level. That’s the calibre of a lot of our players. The female minor hockey league allows the players to be scouted for those exact kind of opportunities. It’s also about just encouraging participation. We want girls to join hockey so they can enjoy the benefits of the fitness involved, build friendships, and really just get to experience what it’s like to be a part of a team and grow as leaders in their community.”