A series of strong wins spiced up with a few nail-biters saw the Whitehorse Bantam Mustangs claim top spot for the first time at the BC Hockey Championships this week.
Whitehorse cruised through the round robin, securing the best playoff seed with ease as the only unbeaten team. In the semi-finals the Mustangs faced Terrace, beating them to the tune of 3-1.
Whitehorse faced a tough Dawson Creek team in the final who were looking for a third straight provincial title. This was their second meeting of the week, building on the rivalry these two teams have grown throughout the past few years.
When head coach Martin Lawrie heard they were playing Dawson Creek, he said he knew his team was up for the challenge. “Dawson’s gone through us to their championships so, (we) wanted to return the favour,” he said.
After being down 1-0 in the first, Mack Benn-Wipp was able to tie things back up. Joe Stokes scored shorthanded to give the Mustangs the lead heading into the second, and after some end-to-end action Bryce Anderson sealed the victory with a goal in the third.
The provincial tournament is something that this team has been looking forward to since the beginning of the season. “We talked about this in September,” said Lawrie. “They accepted this as a goal for the season and were willing to sacrifice things through the year to be as prepared as they could be.” The tier-three team entered a number of tournaments throughout the year that were above their league, and each time came out with impressive results, even winning a tier-two tournament. “We’ve been upping our game all season long,” Lawrie said.
The work has paid off. Throughout the week the Mustangs only let in four goals, while scoring a tournament-leading 39. Three of the top-four scorers of the tournament wore a Mustangs jersey.
Lawrie said another key to success was a strong performance by his goalies. “Our goaltending has been solid all year long. It’s very reliable. We got that good goaltending again this week.”
Such success has not gone unnoticed by hockey’s higher powers. Lawrie was fielding inquiries from Western Hockey League scouts interested in a number of his older players.
“The real interesting thing going forward is going to be the invites that I think a number of these kids are going to be getting,” Lawrie said. “That’s going to be neat when that starts playing out. There might be a few letters arriving in Whitehorse.”
Lawrie has hopes that some of his players will be invited to camps that allow the top players in the region to hone their skills to a more professional level.
Lawrie didn’t get the sense that his team was thrown off by this potential pressure. “I think they were able to put it out of their minds and play their game,” he said. “I think it had a greater impact on the parents.”
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