The fates were conspiring against the Bantam Mustangs last weekend, but they won anyway.
The Yukon rep team overcame adversity to go undefeated for gold at the Vernon Tier 3 Bantam Tournament over the weekend in B.C.
The Mustangs, who won gold the previous weekend at the Whitehorse International Showdown, were missing their skipper before they even hit the road. Head coach Kirk Gale missed the trip because he was sick.
Then they lost forward Errol Ekholm in the first game to a broken collarbone after a sandwich hit delivered by two Vernon players.
In the final defenceman Kyle Schwantz was taken out by a big hit. Then, while trailing the Vernon Vipers in the final, they lost power forward Josh Zaccarelli when he was tossed from the final on a hit-from-behind penalty.
“He was scoring all our goals for us,” said Mustangs coach Tim Ekholm. “He’s a big solid body out there, so when we lost him midway through the game when we were down, it was like, ‘Uh oh, we’re really in trouble now.’”
“So we were down quite a few players for the last part of the game, so lots of juggling of players and positions,” he added. “We were limping to the finish line. It was quite a battle in the end.”
The Mustangs captured gold with a 4-2 win over the host Vipers, coming back from down 2-0, in the final. Zaccarelli scored one before leaving the game, teammate Eric Potvin added two more and Landon Marsh delivered the final blow with an empty netter at the end.
“We just kept our work ethic high and fought the little battles and eventually the puck bounces the right direction,” said Tim Ekholm, who was in the head coach role for his first time in Vernon. “They outworked the other team until the very end.”
The Mustangs opened the tournament with a 4-1 win over Vernon. Zaccarelli, who was named his team’s tournament MVP at the Whitehorse International Showdown, scored all four of his team’s goals in the game.
Yukon then downed Merritt 5-2 and Sooke 5-2 to finish the round robin in first.
“They really played a good team game and they got a ton of shot early in the tournament — we didn’t get the puck in the net as much as we deserved to,” said Tim Ekholm. “In the final game we got a few of those lucky bounces to turn the tide and win that one.”
The Mustangs advanced to the gold medal game with a 2-0 semifinal win over the Port Moody Panthers. Marsh and Nolan Matthews each scored and Quinn Howard got the shutout in net.
“Quinn Howard and Dawson Smith are our two goalies and they definitely kept the back end good,” said Tim.
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