The Tri-Port Midget Wild and the Sooke Thunderbirds met for the third year in a row in the final of the North Island’s Female Midget Hockey Tournament, and it was the Wild who once again came out victorious.
Tri-Port Female Minor Hockey Coordinator Lisa Brown was in charge of putting the tournament together, but she told the Gazette it wasn’t just her who pitched in to help make the event a reality.
“We had a few dedicated parents who helped out with various parts of the tournament, it was a real group effort,” said Brown, adding the tournament is held every year “to help get the word out and create awareness for people to see what female hockey is really all about. It shows everyone that the level of play on Vancouver Island is quite high and it also helps promote more opportunities for female minor hockey players, not just on the North Island, but everywhere.”
Brown wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who helped out, stating it “takes an entire community to run a tournament like this, the refs have been incredible, the rink staff have done a great job — there’s a number of groups who chipped in to truly help make this happen.”
The first game of the tournament kicked off Friday night at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena in Port Hardy with a grudge match between the hometown Wild and the Campbell River Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes had defeated the Wild in league play the previous weekend in Port Alice, and the Wild were downright determined not to lose to them again.
Mercedes Trevor opened the scoring at 9:38 of the first period off a pass from captain Kerrigan Sharpe, and then in the second period it was Sharpe who got the pass from Trevor and knocked the puck past the Hurricanes’ goalie Ashley Hogg to give them a 2-0 lead.
The Hurricanes dug down deep and tried to mount a comeback in the third period, but the Wild’s goalie Avary Miller shut the door from that point on, making numerous saves to help backstop the team to a hard-fought 2-0 shut out win.
Miller stopped roughly 25-30 shots over three periods, with her glove work being brilliant.
“We just played really solid,” said coach Andrew Laming after the game. “We made them play our style of hockey, which is fast paced with lots of dumping and chasing — we forecheck hard and we put pressure on the other team’s defence.”
Laming pointed out that Miller “played awesome — she made a ton of nice saves and really kept us in the game when Campbell River started to come on, she earned that shut out.”
The Wild played again Saturday morning against arch-rival the Sooke Thunderbirds, who had defeated the Wild in the final of the inaugural female midget tournament back in 2015 in Port McNeill.
Laming wasn’t able to make it to the game due to a previous commitment, so assistant coach Jeremy Browne stepped up to take charge of the Wild’s bench.
The Wild got off to a slow start in the first period, which the Thunderbirds capitalized on by scoring back-to-back goals to take a 2-0 lead.
“The girls were a little tired in the first period,” said Browne. “But they definitely woke up in the second.”
Merrick Browne made a great pass to Sharpe, who knocked the puck past the Thunderbirds’ goalie Lilia Egeland at 13:22 to cut the Thunderbirds lead in half.
Sharpe struck again minutes later on a two-on-one, faking a shot and passing it over to Trevor, who netted the puck to tie it up 2-2.
With time winding down in the second, Trevor got the pass from Henderson and rushed down the ice on a breakaway, taking a shot and then scoring off the rebound to give the Wild the lead.
The Thunderbirds tried to battle back, but the Wild kept pushing forward, hunting for more goals.
Kaitlyn Wilson then stole the show with one of the best goals of the tournament, grabbing the puck near the side of the net and roofing it top shelf to give the Wild a 4-2 lead.
The Thunderbirds managed to score one more goal in the third, but it was too little too late, as the Wild held on to pull off the thrilling comeback win 4-3.
Browne was proud of how the Wild responded after finding themselves down two goals at the end of the first period.
“I told the girls to go out there and play Wild hockey and they came out firing,” he said, adding the girls “had a fire lit inside of them and they capitalized on every opportunity, which is what helped us pick up the win.”
Trevor came up clutch with her second big game of the tournament, saying it felt “really good to be back on the team – one of the reasons I’m going so hard out there is because I’m excited to be back with these girls. I’ve played with all of them since I was a little kid.”
Trevor, who plays hockey part-time in Vancouver, added the Wild “is definitely my main team. I love playing with Kerrigan and Taylor — I’ve actually played on a line with Kerrigan since we were really little and to get to keep playing with her is great.”
The Wild played their next game Saturday afternoon, this time against the Nanaimo Clippers, but “it really wasn’t our best game,” said Laming.
“We just fell apart and didn’t come ready to play. The girls were hanging out at the rink all day, were kind of feeling tired, and they just ran out of energy. That’s when Nanaimo took over.”
The Clippers scored four unanswered goals over three periods to take home a dominate 4-0 win.
Even with the loss, the Wild still qualified for first place overall in the tournament, meaning they would get their rematch with the Clippers the next morning at 9:30 a.m.
This time around, the game went a little different.
Wild forward Taylor Ranger drove hard to the net on a penalty kill and banged the puck off the Clippers’ goalie Abby Stewart and into the net at 12:10. Ranger then scored again off a hard wrist shot from the slot at 5:37 to give the Wild a 2-1 lead.
Bree-Anna Henderson and her line-mate Jessie Wadhams took over from there.
Wadhams skated into the corner, battled through two players to gain possession of the puck, and then passed it out to Henderson who was parked in front of the Clippers’ net. Henderson knocked it past Stewart to make it 3-l for the Wild.
Neither team was able to get on the scoreboard in the second period, but the third was again all Henderson and Wadhams.
Wadhams made a great pass back to Henderson, who once again found the twine with a blistering wrist shot to give the Wild a three goal lead. Trevor then picked up an insurance goal at 4:27, which not only gave the Wild a hard-fought 5-1 win, but more importantly, some well-earned redemption after the way the two teams previous meeting had ended.
After the game, Ranger said she felt she’d played “pretty good”, but added she was more so happy she’d managed to “bounce the puck in off the goalie’s head on the penalty kill.”
Henderson was also pleased with her two goal game against the Clippers. “It felt really good, because I hadn’t scored yet this weekend,” she said with a smile.
Wadhams agreed it was a great win, and when asked about how she skated full speed into the corner to pass the puck out to Henderson in front of the net, she said “that’s what I’m supposed to do,” because she knew Henderson “was gonna be there.”
With the final game of the tournament coming up later that afternoon, Henderson confirmed she was more than ready to play again.
“I’m excited, sore, but we’re gonna kick ass.”
“Yeah we’re gonna win,” added Wadhams.
The Wild faced off against the Thunderbirds at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday in front of a loud hometown crowd at the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena, and the game definitely did not disappoint.
The Thunderbirds got out to an early 1-0 lead in the first period, but the Wild came firing back right after, scoring five unanswered goals over three periods thanks to Trevor (x2), Henderson (x2), and Ranger, effectively snatching the gold medals from the Thunderbirds’ grasp for the second year in a row.
“Sooke got a weird goal to start, but the girls just never gave up,” said Laming. “They knew they were gonna get one and they kept playing their game, setting the tempo, and just plugging away scoring goals until it was over.”
Laming pointed out two players in particular who he felt really stepped up all weekend.
“Chloe Noel and Merrick Browne, they both really improved a ton from the start of this weekend to the end of this weekend,” he said, adding “all the other girls on the team had great moments, too — Our defence was solid, and when our offence was on, we really controlled every game.”
All told, Laming felt the referees “did an excellent job, they called it fair on both sides every game, and it was great to see.”
He added he was most proud of the Wild for how they “started the tournament on a high note, and then seeing how they reacted to the loss to Nanaimo. Every team will have a down moment, but it’s all about how you react to it and pick yourself up — that’s where the Wild really showed what kind of character they have this weekend.”