Whitehorse hockey fans had a lot to cheer for Nov. 27 — as well as hand-wring and nail-bite.
The Yukon Bantam Mustangs went from up by four goals to trailing by one in the matter of 15 minutes of play in the final of the Whitehorse International Showdown at Takhini Arena.
Showing their grit, the Mustangs came back to beat Alaska’s Mat’su/Wasilla Eagles 8-6 in the bantam division final.
“That’s why we play these tournaments: to see what the kids are made of,” said Mustangs head coach Kirk Gale. “I knew if they kept skating, the chances would come. They got a couple of breaks, but they made those breaks by skating and they certainly matched the physicality of the other team.
“That’s the big thing. Some of these kids are first-years — there’s a lot more hitting in the game now. They came up from peewee where there’s no hitting, so it’s a big transition.”
The Yukon rep team stormed out to a 4-0 lead in the first eight minutes of play before the Eagles notched five unanswered goals.
“I really don’t know what happened there,” said Mustangs winger Josh Zaccarelli. “I guess they scored one goal and the momentum changed.”
The Mustangs took back the lead on two power play goals to end the second period.
The Eagles tied it 6-6 midway through the third before Mustangs defenceman Nolan Matthews scored the game winner — his second of the game — on a shot from the blue line. Matthews was named his team’s Player of the Game in the final.
“He was just getting spot shifts because he’s still sick and said he couldn’t play after his first shift,” said Gale. “But he came back on the bench and said he was good enough to go out there. He has a big shot, he’s a big kid, he’s strong, so that really helped us.”
Other goal scorers for the Mustangs in the final include Zaccarelli, Landon Marsh, Ashton Underhill, Hugo Burgess, Kyle Schwantz and Cole Cowan.
Zaccarelli, who also posted an assist in the final, was named his team’s tournament MVP.
“It feels good. I got it in front of my family and friends, so it means a lot,” said Zaccarelli.
“My line mates (Saul Gale and Eric Potvin), they helped me get a lot of points this weekend. And I’d like to thank all the guys, they played really well this weekend.”
The Mustangs reached the final with 5-1 and 4-0 wins over the Yellowknife Wolf Pack in the round robin. They also split two games against the Eagles, winning 5-3 and losing 8-5.
The Wolf Pack was the odd team out in the three-team division, taking bronze.
“We knew we were going to be in for a challenge because we played them twice already and they were all pretty close games,” said Kirk of the Eagles.
“We had guys who were kind of hurt and guys coming off sickness — we were down to 10 players yesterday. We were getting some players back but we knew they weren’t going to be 100 per cent, but they gutted it out.”
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