The normal celebration for a team winning a recreational hockey tournament is everyone coming off the bench – dog tired from the war of attrition of the weekend – for a few high-fives, some smiles and into the dressing room to celebrate with a case or two of fizzy drinks.
But as the Weaver and Devore Marauders showed on Sunday at the Multiplex, it’s OK to sometimes jump off the bench and act like kids.
The Marauders managed to outlast the Diggerz Bandits of Hay River in the A division final of the First Air Rec Hockey Tournament on Sunday evening, winning by a score of 5-4 in double overtime. Austin Daniels scored the winner after being sent in alone on a breakaway.
Marauders defenceman Ryan Nichols has been involved in his share of championship games over the years and he said this one was right up there.
“I’d say it was the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “End to end for the entire overtime, fast-paced and the atmosphere in the crowd was amazing.”
The Bandits came out the better of the two teams in the early going, building up a 3-0 lead with all three markers coming with the man advantage.
It appeared as though the Bandits would do the business to the Marauders again, just like they did in the round-robin meeting between the two teams, which the Bandits won, 6-2.
“They got us good on Saturday and I don’t think the confidence was really high before the game,” said Nichols.
Andy Williams got the Marauders on the board with a power-play marker to cut the deficit to 3-1, one which was narrowed even further shortly after that to make it 3-2. They would eventually come all the way to take a 4-3 lead into the third period before the Bandits tied it up to force bonus hockey.
The first overtime period was 4-on-4 and while there were plenty of chances with some open ice, neither team was able to find the back of the net, meaning a second overtime session and down to 3-on-3 and plenty of more ice to work with.
Daniels’ winner came after the Marauders were able to chip it out of their zone and the puck found its way to Daniels, who slotted it home to set off some of the more wilder scenes seen at the Multiplex in some time.
“Both goalies played really well and we didn’t think we would ever get it,” said Nichols. “Us older guys were a bit more excited than we usually are, especially after a game like that.”
Jaden Beck tended the goal for the Marauders in the final and that was up in the air as he had his shoulder pop out during the loss to the Bandits in the round-robin. Liam Tereposky came in as an emergency back-up for the rest of that game and was on stand-by just in case Beck wasn’t able to go.
“Jaden’s shoulder held up and he was adamant that he get the start,” said Nichols. “Liam played great for us that game and we were confident with Jaden but having Liam there just in case is just as good.”
The B division was the only final of the weekend which didn’t feature a Yellowknife team as the Dawson City Canucks from B.C. took on Iqaluit HC for the big prize. In the end, the Canucks were able to hold off Iqaluit, 5-2, to win the title in their first appearance as a team at the tournament.
The Canucks did have some Yellowknife content among its ranks as Jeff Round suited up for the weekend and ended up being named the division’s most valuable player.
He said it was a tough victory over a team with just 10 players.
“That Iqaluit team with just nine skaters can really fly,” he said. “They seemed to have a lot of legs out there, even in the late going.”
Both teams traded goals early in the first period before the Canucks managed to pop two quick ones before the end of the first. They tacked on another in the second before Iqaluit got one back and that was all the Canucks would give up as goaltender Josh Round, Jeff’s son, shut the door the rest of the way.
Jeff Round said the quick start gave the Canucks a chance to start wearing down Iqaluit’s short bench.
“It was a big boost for us,” he said. “The game plan was to skate them, skate them as hard as we could and wear them out.”
The C division champions this year are the Nahanni Inn Flyers from Fort Simpson as they beat the Dragon Toner Slayers in the final while Lutsel K’e took the D division by beating the Junior Greenbacks. Al’s Cardinals won the E division thanks to a win over the Fort Simpson Wolverines.
Dan Schofield once again had the job of organizing everything this year and said this year’s tournament was one of the better ones he’s seen.
“Thirty-nine teams, one short of a sellout,” he said. “We had the Canucks from B.C., several teams from Nunavut, lots of communities playing and we’re very, very happy with the turnout.”
One thing Schofield said he’s noticed over time is the quality of the on-ice product improving.
“Not only is minor hockey developing more stronger players, and you can see that with the Junior Greenbacks making a final and some of our kids from the Polar United Club and kids playing in the development program, but you’re getting better quality players,” he said. “We’re seeing U Sports players, former ECHL players, college players, major junior players who used to play in the Western Hockey League. They’re always telling me that they never expected the level to be as good in Yellowknife as it’s become. They’re shocked but I’m not because we have great athletes here.”