Among all the fun and frolic of Hockey Day in Canada in Yellowknife, there was that one hockey event everyone in the city looks forward to each year.
For Sir John Franklin High School, it was an event which couldn’t have gone any better.
Both of the Wade Hamer Challenge Cup crowns are upon the brow of the Falcons this year as the school claimed the girls and boys titles respectively at the Multiplex this past Friday. The Falcons girls beat St. Pat’s in an exciting contest, 5-4, while the boys were dominant from start to finish on their way to a 4-0 win.
The games are traditionally held every November but both schools pushed it back to last week to coincide with Hockey Day in Canada.
The girls game kicked things off with Sir John Franklin opening the scoring early in the first period and celebrated what they thought was a second on a power-play but the officials ruled Taylor Catcher’s wrist shot hit the post. St. Pat’s took advantage of the confusion and raced down the ice to score shorthanded to tie the game but Catcher wouldn’t be denied shortly before the end of the first as she snapped home the go-ahead goal to give the Falcons a 2-1 lead at the intermission.
Catcher scored again early in the second frame to extend the lead before St. Pat’s’ Brooklyn Helyar finished off a gorgeous end-to-end rush, beating Falcons goalie Destiny Hobbs-Stewart to cut the lead to 3-2. Sir John Franklin would restore the two-goal lead only to see that evaporate as St. Pat’s notched two quick goals to tie the game at 4-4, setting up the dramatic last part of the game.
It would be Catcher, though, who would get the go-ahead goal with six minutes left in regulation time to give Sir John Franklin the lead they would not relinquish. St. Pat’s had a golden opportunity late in the game as they had a power-play for the remainder of regulation time after Sir John Franklin received a minor penalty but they couldn’t put the puck past Hobbs-Stewart.
The win for the Falcons girls put to bed a four-game losing streak for the school in the girls game.
Ella Kokelj, Sir John Franklin’s captain, said Catcher was a huge part of the victory but she was just one part of the machine.
“We’re so lucky to have an amazing team,” she said. “Our attitude before the game was very positive. We’ve been preparing for this for a while, it’s been our longest Challenge Cup season ever. The message was to work as hard as we could and support each other, whether we’re on the bench or on the ice. We’re all part of the team and wear the school colours with pride.”
There was absolutely no fear among the bench that Kokelj could see when St. Pat’s came back to tie the game, she added.
“Once you let fear creep in, you’ve lost the game,” she said. “We just stayed super-focused on being positive, supporting each other and doing the best possible job we could.”
Kokelj is one of 15 players on the Falcons’ girls squad that will graduate in June and she said it’s an awesome feeling for her and her departing teammates to go out as champs.
“It’s about time and we’re all so happy,” she said.
When it came to the boys game, Sir John Franklin had a majority of the possession and a majority of the better scoring chances. Captain Jack Kotaska opened the scoring early and from there, the Falcons took control, never looking back. St. Pat’s did show some signs of life at the start of the second period but Falcons goaltender Devin Vogel shut the door.
Falcons head coach Peter Curran said he felt his team was deeper up front than in past years.
“I was just hoping we would be able to execute,” he said. “(St. Pat’s goaltender) Isaac Karstad played out of this world. We missed about half our chances in the first period because he was in such great position but in terms of possession, we were there all game. When the puck was in our end, we transitioned well and churned it up ice and they just couldn’t get their forecheck going.”
In between periods, Curran said he told his boys they had played as complete a first period as he’d ever seen but he knew St. Pat’s wouldn’t fold that easily.
“We knew they would come out and push and they did,” he said. “Three shots on us on their first shift but we just had to put one foot in front of the other and weather it. We felt we had the horses and it all worked out for us.”
As much as the Falcons controlled much of the play, Curran said he told his boys to be wary about overpassing.
“They spent a bit too much time looking for the perfect pass when the good look was there a lot,” he said. “The boys were just feeling confident with the possession game and were looking for the third or fourth pass instead of making one good pass.”
The win gives Sir John Franklin a three-game winning streak in the game and the one positive for Curran is he has plenty of returning players to defend the title next year.
“We have guys like Tysen Almond, Ethan Aumond, McKinley Talbot, Nathan Cluff, both of our goalies (Vogel and Gavin Craig) are back,” he said. “November comes around again fast and we’ll be back here defending our title before you know it.”