The Windermere Valley Minor Hockey had two BC Provincial Hockey Tier 4 wins in their final games of the season.
The Bantam team won the first provincial win in 22 years, beating Prince Rupert 4-1 in the final game on March 20. The midget team followed their lead, beating Creston 3-2 in overtime. The Bantam team also won the Fair Play Trophy, awarded to the team that displayed the best sportsmanship on and off the ice throughout the tournament. This trophy will be placed in the trophy case at the Eddie Mountain Memorial Arena.
“The tournament was a great experience for the team and parents. If it wasn’t for the championships I doubt many of us would have ever had the opportunity to visit Prince Rupert,” said Windermere Valley Rockies manager Nancy Smith.
A handful of Golden players on the Windermere team travel to and from practices and games to play on the bantam team. Rex Baxendale, Braxton Guilliford, Brayden Mastrioanni, Lukas Pfisterer, and Evan Tsadilas played alongside their teammates in the provincial championships.
“The boys were extremely well conditioned and were able to play the full 60 minute game without losing focus for even a shift. They also were very proficient at specialty teams both penalty kill and power play that allowed them to gain momentum,” head coach Al Neal said about the team as a whole.
The bantam team, representing the East Kootenays, travelled to Prince Rupert for the tournament, playing their first game on Sunday, March 17 against the host 2018 champions Prince Rupert. They lost that game 11-2, with only Luke Schaal and Carson Jefferson scoring and Tsadilas breaking his wrist in his second shift. The parents hoped that Monday would be a different day. The team came out stronger against Summerland, tying that game 4-4, but with no lucky bounces, the team missed an open net goal, and Summerland went back on the next play to tie with seconds left. Schaal had a hat trick and Jefferson scored the other goal. Nikolai Feissel, Leif Dubreiul, and Pfisterer all adapted well to the new lines, created by the loss of Tsadilas.
That evening, the team had to play Fort St. John, another strong team. With the tie under their belt, the team came out playing strong, clean hitting hockey, beating the northern team 6-4 in a tense game. Paddy Donahue, Schaal, Zack Smith, Kyle Brunner (2), and Brydon Fleming scored, with assists by Jefferson, Smith, and Gulliford. Parker Nichol made some great saves to preserve the win. The game on Tuesday was against Prince George – another close game until the middle of the third period when the Rockies leapt ahead, winning 5-3. Goals were scored by Pfisterer (2), Guilliford, Brunner (assisted by Smith), and Fleming. The Cinderella story continued as that win put the team into the gold medal finals against Prince Rupert.
Again the arena was filled with a partisan chanting, hometown crowd. The final game was 1-0 for the Windermere Valley after one, with Mastroianni scoring on a pass from Pfisterer. Guilliford scored the second goal on a pass by Donahue, making it 2-0, but Prince Rupert scored almost immediately to make it 2-1. Then, Pfisterer scored on passes from Jefferson and Brunner ending the second. In the third, Fleming scored the last goal, with the final being 4-1. Baxendale made some spectacular saves throughout the game. Both goalies were stellar in the games following that first game. Throughout the tournament, the team played with four defensemen, Ryan Neal, Jake Bradley, Donahue and Guilliford, who all played their hearts out. Their short shifts and strong play made a difference in every game.
“At the end of the Sunday game, it was hard for anyone to envisage that we would make the gold medal game, let alone win it, but the team came together, the coaching team worked on building the team, the results started to improve, and the performance for all the players and goalie peaked at exactly at the right time,” said parent Mark Baxendale.
The bantam team also won the Fair Play Trophy for best exhibiting the qualities of sportsmanship on and off the ice. Input from the local hotels, restaurants, and arena staff where taken into consideration in this award.