Kiah Vail of Fort Smith thinks the St. Albert Slash have done something that will never be done again: win the Esso Cup national midget girls hockey championship three times in a row.
What we do know is that the Slash became the first team to ever do it in the tournament’s history on April 27 and are now officially dynastic in nature.
Vail, who’s played with the Slash for the past two seasons, helped them to a third consecutive national title thanks to a 4-1 win over the Sudbury Lady Wolves in Sudbury, Ont. While it’s the third in a row for the Slash, it’s Vail’s second straight crown.
She admitted winning it was a bit of a surprise considering the way they came out to start the game.
“We didn’t play well in the first period,” she said. “They had the crowd energy on their side playing at home but we pulled it together and by the time we scored that third goal, they were crushed.”
The other surprising part of the win was the fact that the Slash ended up fourth in the six-team round-robin, just squeaking into the semifinals and that wasn’t lost on Vail.
“We played a little looser against Stoney Creek (Ontario) knowing we probably did enough to get in,” she said. “We maybe didn’t play as complete a game as we would have wanted each time but we did enough.”
The fourth place finish following the round-robin meant a semifinal with the Saskatoon Stars, the Slash’s archenemy over the past three seasons.
Vail said most of the girls wanted the Stars in the semifinal but she was hoping to get them when it counted the most.
“I wanted to beat them in the gold medal game like we did last year,” she said. “It would have been a faster game for the fans and I think a better game for TSN.”
TSN broadcast the championship game right across the country as they’ve done each year since the tournament’s inception.
The round-robin meeting between the two teams went the way of the Stars, 3-2, and it always looked like it was going to be a tight game the second time around. The Slash scored early in the third period to break the scoreless deadlock only to have the Stars find the equalizer with 90 second left in regulation to send it into bonus hockey.
The Slash, though, would break through and Vail had a hand in it as she assisted on Madison Willan’s sudden-death game winner 2:46 into overtime.
The Lady Wolves opened the scoring in the final late in the first period on the power-play but the Slash answered back early in the second period and extended that lead by the midway point. The third goal Vail spoke about came on the power-play with five minutes to go and an empty-netter sealed it with less than 40 seconds to go.
“I’ll remember this one because we fought for it,” said Vail. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think it’s a record that will be touched. Five of our players have been on this team for three in a row and this is how you finish your minor hockey career. We kept telling ourselves we weren’t leaving Sudbury without the cup and it would have hurt if we didn’t win it.”
Vail is one of the graduating players as she ages out of midget girls hockey but she has her heart set on where she’s going to continue her career.
“I’m planning to go play at the University of Ottawa,” she said. “One of my teammates is going to play there and the defence coach also sold me on the program so I’ll try to make it happen.”
Oh, and the Esso Cup will be making a return appearance to her hometown as it did one year ago.
“I’ll figure out a date for that to happen,” said Vail. “Sometime in July would work the best once I’m done school.”