The Bantam Mustangs punched above their weight – and won – over the weekend.
The Tier 3 team from the Whitehorse rec hockey club went undefeated to capture gold in the Tier 2 division of the 12th annual Seafair International Ice Breaker Rep Tournament on Monday in B.C.
“It’s really exciting because we’re a Tier 3 team and we competed really well in a Tier 2 tournament,” said Mustangs captain Joe Stokes. “I really feel we came together good, we faced some adversity in that last game, and our forecheck really did well for us.”
The Mustangs won gold with a 3-2 win over the Saanich Braves, from Vancouver Island, in the final. Down 2-0 late in the second period, Mustangs forward Dylan Cozens dispatched a screaming slapper from top of the circle to score with 43.8 seconds left.
Midway through the third Cozens found daylight between Braves goalie Cam St. Pierre and the post, sniping a wrist shot in to tie the game 2-2.
In a mad scramble behind the Braves net, Mustangs Johnny Elias and Bryce Anderson got the puck out to Stokes alone in front, burying the game-winner with 6:42 left.
With his two goals, Cozens was named the game’s MVP for his team.
“He’s a pretty good player, I’ve played with him for a while now,” said Stokes. “It’s awesome watching him go down the ice and scoring those goals.”
“After they got that first goal, we weren’t too nervous on the bench, but it was getting a little scary,” said Cozens. “As soon as I got that second goal, we were like: we got to get this back right away. Then we scored right after that – it was a pretty exciting game.”
“We were struggling in our defensive end at the start of the game, but our forecheck in the third period was really good,” he added. “That really helped a lot.”
To the Braves goalie’s credit, he saw a lot of shots that third period. At the other end of the ice, Mustangs goalie Cole Smith was more of a spectator, as the Braves failed to put a shot on net.
“It was a nice way to finish, it was the best game we’ve played at the tournament for sure,” said Bantam head coach Martin Lawrie. “It was the first time the kids faced some real adversity in a game. Going into the third period down 2-1, they cranked it up.
“When we went onto the ice at the end of the game, in our end to talk to the players, both (assistant coach) Carl (Burgess) and I almost fell because the ice was clean in our end. We played the entire third period in Saanich’s end.”
The Mustangs won five straight games en route to gold. They opened with a 4-1 win over Vancouver Island’s Juan de Fuca Grizzlies, with two goals from Stokes and others from Elias and Cozens.
“In the first game we handily beat a team that was a Tier 2 team – we really had no idea what the teams would be like going in,” said Stokes. “We thought to ourselves, we can handle this.”
Whitehorse then downed the Phoenix Coyotes from Arizona 5-2 in their second game. Cozens posted a hat trick while Niall Lawrie and Stokes contributed with individual goals.
The Mustangs then galloped over the Nanaimo Clippers 5-2 in their first really physical game of the tournament. Elias had a three-point game with a goal, while Stokes, Dylan Kindervater, Jarod McCulloch and – who else but – Cozens also scored.
Sunday’s semifinal was the Mustangs’ most lopsided of the tourney. They sent the hosting Seafair Islanders packing with a 6-2 win. Elias got the ball rolling with the first two goals, before Cozens knocked in two and Stokes put in one. Anderson racked up two assists and a goal in the game.
“Bryce was setting up a lot of nice plays for us and Joe was putting them in the back of the net,” said Cozens.
Before Cozens’ MVP nod in the final, Anderson, Stokes, Elias and Niall Lawrie each had the honour in the games leading up to gold.
“I was happy with a number of the first-years, this is a really big jump from peewee to bantam, especially now that there’s no contact in peewee hockey,” said Martin. “To come in and play against some of the big kids who are coming after them, they handled it really well.
“It’s a legitimate Tier 2 tournament and to come away winning it, it looks good for the season.”
It was a long, busy weekend for Smith. The Mustangs goalie played all 15 periods as his team’s only netminder at the tournament. However, Peewee Mustangs first-year goalie Dawson Smith (no relation) did dress for the games.
“Cole played very well,” said Stokes. “He was our only goalie because our other one (Ethan Vanderkley) wasn’t present, but he played good and was solid in net for us.”
Whitehorse’s Peewee Mustangs and Atom Mustangs also competed at the Seafair tournament this past weekend.
It was the first time in recent history – or maybe ever – in which three Mustangs team travelled to and competed in the same tournament.
It is the result of an ongoing relationship between the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association and Yukon airline Air North, which added two flights to their regular schedule – one down to Vancouver on Friday and one back on Monday – to accommodate the three Mustangs teams.
“This is the third season where we’ve had that relationship,” said Carl Burgess, president of the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association. “They’re proud to be our official airline and we’re proud to say that. There’s a 100-plus tickets coming down to this one and everyone is happy to buy them.
“Air North has been incredibly accommodating, recognizing what we bring to the company and we definitely really appreciate it and recognize what they bring to the association. They’re a huge partner in this and the word is getting out.
“Other teams in B.C. know now we have this relationship with Air North and it’s helping us attract teams and interest in events.”
Whitehorse Minor teamswill take part in the second annual Air North Challenge with three Whitehorse teams travelling to Yellowknife and three Yellowknife teams coming to Whitehorse, novice to midget, the weekend of October 25.
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