It was hockey night in Whitehorse and a group of young guys had just changed the record books.
On Friday afternoon, the Yukon men’s hockey team made good on captain Alex McDougall’s bold aim to “make history” at the Canada Winter Games, defeating the Northwest Territories 3-2 in a tiebreaker.
Yukon goalie Mitchell Heynen made four saves in the game-deciding shootout, while 16-year-old Robbie Stuckey and Ted Stephens put the puck in the NWT net to seal the victory.
It is the first win for a Yukon men’s hockey team at the Games.
And on Friday night, as the Zamboni readied the ice for the third period of the gold-medal game between Manitoba and Ontario — and Takhini Arena took on an ambience worthy of Maple Leaf Gardens — McDougall’s face was all smiles as a result.
“I’m cheering for Manitoba,” he said, standing close to the Plexiglas and taking in the game. “They play with true heart; they go full out.”
Like McDougall, most of the 1,600-or-so screaming hockey fans at Takhini Arena seemed to want Manitoba to win gold.
Ontario’s squad included future top NHL draft picks, like forward Steve Stamkos: it didn’t need any moral support.
And Manitoba’s encouragement seemed to be sourced from a very Canadian display of rooting for the underdog — or at least cheering for the team not from Toronto.
But McDougall wasn’t behind Manitoba through a shared understanding of winning against the odds, he said.
“Ontario’s just cocky,” said 17-year-old McDougall.
Friday’s gold-medal game was easily the most sought-after ticket in town.
Three scalpers stood outside the arena doors trying to sell tickets.
And word floated around that someone had tried to sell tickets on a radio call-in show earlier in the day for a whopping $200 a pop.
As men threw free ChapSticks into the crowd and the DJ played AC/DC’s Back in Black for the umpteenth time, dozens of girls from Manitoba smacked a tin garbage can with sticks and waved a Manitoba flag, screaming “‘Toba! ‘Toba!”
A cadre of Ontario fans on the other side of the rink sounded disinterested by comparison.
The Manitobans knew they had to be in top spirits to push their team to gold.
“Everybody thinks we didn’t have what it takes, but the guys have shown that they’re every bit as good as any other team out there,” said 18-year-old Julie Devries, of Winnipeg. “We think our boys have what it takes to go all the way and we’re just here to support them.”
She and dozens more girls from the Manitoba ringette team drowned out the Ontario fans.
“They’re pretty lame, I’m not going to lie,” said Devries of the Ontario fans.
But what Ontario lacked in spirit they made up for in goals.
Ontario took first blood less than 20 seconds into the game, scoring again about five minutes later to take a 2-0 lead.
Manitoba evened things up, but then kept responding to Ontario’s offence rather than taking control of the game.
That despite the almost heroic efforts of David Toews, who scored two goals and seemed to be the main sparkplug on the Manitoba offence.
Toews illustrated Manitoba’s main problem: despite his 5-11, 83-kilogram frame, he was clearly on the small side compared to the very large looking team Ontario.
Manitoba got within one in the third period, taking the score to 5-4 Ontario.
Then it all fell apart.
Ontario forward Stefan Della Rovere stuffed a puck into the net that trickled through the Manitoba goaltender’s legs.
Manitoba then got two late-game penalties that nullified any comeback attempts.
Ontario went home wearing gold after defeating Manitoba 6-4.
Manitoba players looked dejected after the game as they received their medals from Canada Games president Piers McDonald, even though they had won the silver.
Team Alberta took the bronze.
Yukon’s victory put it ahead of NWT in the final standings.
Forward Andrew Pettitt was the team’s top scorer, with three goals and two assists.
The Yukon women’s hockey team takes to the ice Monday.
The team’s first game is against Saskatchewan.