FORT ST. JOHN
Even as Canada was winning its first Olympic gold medal on home turf, Whitehorse’s FSC Bantam Mustangs were logging a similar milestone of their own.
Going undefeated with a 4-0-1 record, Whitehorse’s premier rec bantam team won its first gold medal, competing in the Knights of Columbus Bantam Tier 2 Hockey Tournament in Fort St. John over the weekend.
“In the final at the end when the buzzer went, that was the best moment,” said Mustangs co-captain Tyson Glass. “I’ll definitely remember that moment.”
Like Canada, the bantam Mustangs’ first gold was a long time coming, and there were signs before the tournament the team was in contention for gold.
Starting their road season in Kelowna during October, the Mustangs went 3-3 at the tourney for a fifth-place finish. Later, the team travelled to Wetaskiwin, Alberta, where they went 4-1 taking third place.
Taking another step up the podium, the Mustangs then made it to the finals at the Kamloops Bantam Tier 2 Tournament in mid January, losing in the finals to the home team to take second.
“We’ve said from the start, every team has to learn how to lose before you can win,” said Mustangs head coach Jay Glass. “We’ve done all of it, so that’s why it was important to us to get into this final game and also
finish it, so we know we can do it. I think it’ll be a big confidence booster for us.”
With just a few hours to rest after a charter flight to For St. John, the Mustangs began the tournament with their closest game, tying the Dawson Creek Canucks 4-4. Twice overcoming one-goal deficits, the Mustangs
took a 4-3 lead early in the third on a goal by Kyle Lowes, but a late Canucks goal with 13 seconds left led to a tie.
“I had it lined up, but then someone deflected it,” said Mustangs goalie Nigel Sinclair-Eckert. “I don’t know if it went above or below my blocker.”
Scoring for the Mustangs were Jared Steinbach, Tyrell Hope and Riley Pettitt, who also had an assist.
“Our team does typically start slow,” said Jay Glass. “It’s always hard the first day of a road trip. I think it’s just execution for the guys. Once we got to the semi or final, nothing was going to stop these guys.”
The Mustangs exacted revenge for the late goal four games later in the final, rolling over the Canucks in a 5-2 win, with two goals from Steinbach, two from Scott Meredith and a final one from Scott Peterson.
“We got a feel for the goalie and we knew what we were up against,” said Meredith. “So we knew what we had to do, not just going in not knowing what to expect.
“The second time we went hard from the get-go.”
The Mustangs advanced to the finals with a decisive 5-1 win over the Fort St. John Flyers, with Cole Morris scoring twice and individual goals from Glass, Steinbach and Trevor Whynot, who also assisted his team’s
last two goals.
The Mustangs outshot the Flyers 47-22 in the semi with Mustangs goalie Breyin Wiens making 21 saves.
“I thought Breyin played an absolutely fabulous game in the semifinals this morning,” said Jay Glass. “We had good goaltending all weekend and great goaltending when we needed it today.
“Both goaltenders could have been Players of the Game in their games today.”
Although it did not provide the Mustangs with access to the finals, the team’s first game against the hometeam Flyers did have its memorable moments, such as a hit to the head from Flyer Braden Donis against
Steinbach. The Mustangs, who were trailing 1-0, responded with four consecutive goals, including one from Steinbach, on their way to a 6-4 win.
“It did piss us off – it was a hit from behind and I think the guy should have been out,” said Tyson Glass. “We probably got some momentum off that. It’s good that Jared came back in that game.”
“I think we scored on the power play and that got things going,” said Lowes.
Feeling Donis should have received more than a 10-minute penalty over the hit was not the only call by officials that raised eyebrows on the Mustangs bench.
In a lopsided 10-2 win over the Grande Prairie North Stars, Lowes, the Mustangs winger, was suspended for the following semifinal game on an alleged knee-to-knee hit that no one seemed to see – no official raised
their arm and the play was only stopped because of the North Stars player down on the ice.
“He hit him square on the shoulder right in the chest and knocked him back, unfortunately, the player was injured,” said Jay Glass. “What happens a lot with Kyle is he gets penalties just because he hits so hard.
That’s something we have to live with, and he has to live with, but I don’t want him to change the way he plays because he opens up a lot of space for us and keeps our smaller guys safe.
“In the end, it was better because he was rested in the final.”
“It was a good hit,” said Lowes. “I have proof that it wasn’t knee-on-knee because my shoulder pad broke (from the hit).”
Achieving higher placings each tournament so far this season, the Mustangs are hoping to keep the rate of improvement up over the next few weeks leading up to the BC Provincials in Castlegar, BC.
“I think it’s going to be nice to have three weeks of practice,” said Jay Glass. “We’re playing in the Rendezvous tournament at home on the B side, so that’ll be a good tune up for us.
“We showed that we can play with poise under pressure and down in Castlegar it’s always been our objective to win gold.”
Aside from previous tournament experience, also advancing the Mustangs’ play has been dry-land training sessions twice a week with local men’s player Jake Jirousek and his All Out Hockey camp.
“We’re all getting stronger and it’s making a difference in our shots and our cardio,” said Meredith. “We’re all around stronger. I can hit harder and take a hit better.
“We played very physical. For the amount of full-contact games we play, we were one of the most physical teams out there.”
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org