Defending a title is always tough. Just ask anyone who’s ever done it.
The Yellowknife Wolfpack’s senior girls outfit had that chore at the Wickenheiser Female World Hockey Festival this past weekend in Calgary and like a good champion does, they came out on top but were pushed to the limit to do it.
The Wolfpack defeated EG713 from Edmonton by a score of 1-0 in the midget tier 2-B division gold medal game but it wasn’t your standard 1-0 win. It took 10 rounds of a shootout to get the job done and it was Regan Bulger who eventually slotted home the winner to end an amazing game.
Kaylee Grant coached the girls in Calgary and said it was stressful enough for the players but even worse for her.
“I’m carrying a bit of the stress myself because I’m the one tapping the players on the shoulder telling them to go out,” she said. “The next decision is a make-or-break one and luckily, we made it.”
The girls were one of five teams in the division and began their quest against the Lacoka Warriors of Alberta in the round-robin. They ended up winning it, 2-1, but it was a tough go right out of the gate.
Grant said it took some time for the girls to get used to playing with one another out on the ice.
“It was our first game together and we didn’t have any practice time,” she said. “You could tell in the first period that the girls were still trying to figure out what their strengths were and who worked well with each other but we got it together.”
Next up was the Montana Big Sky Wildcats, which was a 4-0 win for the ladies, highlighted by Dakota Earle’s pair of short-handed goals, a rare feat in a hockey game.
“She could have had a third short-handed goal but she passed it off,” said Grant.
The Tri-Port Wild of B.C. was the next opponent for the Wolfpack and Grant knew they would be a tougher nut to crack.
“They were undefeated when we played them and they hadn’t played yet that day,” she said.
It was the second game of the day for the Wolfpack, though, and that helped them a bit as their legs were still warm enough to skate away with a 2-1 win.
EG713 was supposed to be the final round-robin game for the Wolfpack but both teams were unbeaten at that point with identical records of three wins and no losses. A round-robin game would have been useless because they would only play each other again in the gold medal game so both teams agreed to make that game the championship encounter.
“Our flights home were so close together and we all wanted to get home early so we thought it was a good idea,” said Grant.
Both goalies were outstanding in the final with Jamie Cluff standing tall for the Wolfpack. Cluff normally plays with the peewee Wolfpack boys and so the step-up to midget was a big one.
But one that Cluff proved she was ready for, said Grant.
“She’s been practising with us already and she thrived in that situation,” she said. “She’s up against players who are as old as 19 and she wasn’t fazed at all. She saved our butts numerous times all weekend.”
She did so again as regulation time solved nothing but instead of going to sudden-death overtime, it was off to a three-player shooutout. EG713 scored first on Cluff but Earle managed to knot the shootout in the third round. From there, it was sudden-death as the next goal would win. Bulger played the hero’s role as she scored in round 10 to set off rather excited scenes.
“When we won, the organizer came to me and told me I looked stressed out,” said Grant. “I said I was but I was so proud of these girls. It was an awesome ride home.”