HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA
In the Canada Winter Games’ 44-year history, not once has a territorial hockey team – boys’ or girls’ – beat a province. Until now.
Team Yukon’s boys’ team made history on Sunday, defeating Team Newfoundland and Labrador 2-1 in Dartmouth, across the harbour from Halifax.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s a great feeling to get the win,” said Yukon captain Matt McCarthy. “We really grinded it out and it felt good.”
Grinded it out indeed.
Within the slim victory, Yukon goalie Nigel Sinclair-Eckert played the game of a lifetime, logging 53 saves, significantly higher than Newfoundland’s goalie, who posted 17 saves.
“That was probably the best game of my life,” said Sinclair-Eckert. “I don’t think I’ve ever played that good, it was unreal. I was on my game – it just happens every so often.”
“The first shot he’d save, and then we cleared a lot of the rebounds – a couple times we didn’t and he came up big,” said Yukon head coach Jay Glass. “We were a lot tighter in our own zone.”
Yukon drew first blood against Newfoundland, with forward Cole Morris knocking in a rebound in front of the Newfoundland net with assists going to Trevor Whynot and Kyle Lowes. Tied 1-1 in the second, Yukon pounced on a bouncing rebound on blue ice, this time going in off the stick of Tyson Glass. Assisting the game-winner were Tyrell Hope and Liam Janke.
“The first goal, by Cole Morris, was an ugly goal, and then the winning goal by Tyson Glass was again a rebound, nothing pretty,” said Jay Glass. “That’s what we have to do here: we have to get pucks to the net and go to the net.”
Unfortunately for the Yukon, the boys’ two other games have not been as monumental.
The day following their big win, the Yukon boys came out flat against their NWT rivals, losing 7-1.
Their first win of the tournament, NWT suffered a 7-1 loss to Newfoundland to open the Games. Knowing that didn’t help Yukon prepare mentally, said McCarthy.
“Newfoundland beat NWT the game before, so I think we just came into the game thinking we’re going to stomp these kids, and we paid for it,” he said. “We weren’t focused, we weren’t ready, we just weren’t there.
“We’re going to go back, get some good food, some good rest and we’ll be ready tomorrow.”
Sinclair-Eckert played the second and third period after starter Youje Blackburn was pulled during the first intermission. However, it was barely over a minute into the second before NWT scored, making it 4-0, on their second shot of the period.
“There were a lot of factors that contributed to the loss,” said Sinclair-Eckert. “From a goalie’s point of view, going in cold is always hard; you never have your best game when you go in cold. It’s also hard when we’re not scoring and they are.”
“Yesterday was such a high, I guess they’re not used to keeping their focus – we probably got a little too excited about the big win,” said Jay Glass. “Today we obviously were ready to play and came out flat.
“We got four shots in the first, three of four in the second and nine or 10 in the third, so we got better, but it was too little, too late.”
Eventually finding the back of the net for the Yukon, making it 5-1 with 5.2 seconds left in the second period, was Tyson Glass, deflecting a shot by Jared Steinbach from the point. Getting the puck to Steinbach was Whynot for an assist.
After finishing the first period down 3-0, the Yukon kept on the losing slide despite an inspirational first intermission locker room visit by Whitehorse native Ted Stephens, who drove from Moncton, where he plays for the major junior team the Wildcats, to see the game.
“I didn’t see the first period, but I tried to fire them up a little bit,” said Stephens, the first Yukon born player to win the President’s Cup, which he did last year with the Wildcats. “The coach said they were flat a little the first period.
“I told them I drove two-and-a-half hours to see them and I wanted to see a win.”
The Yukon squad started the Games with a 10-1 loss to PEI on Saturday. Scoring for the lone goal was Hope, taking a pass up the boards from Chris Anderson, cutting in front of the net and burying a backhand in the second period to make it 3-1.
“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for sure,” said Sinclair-Eckert, who was in net for the PEI game. “Being a goalie is not for everyone. Whatever the outcome is, being a goalie, all eyes are on you. So you have to take responsibility for wins and losses.”
The two losses mean the Yukon is out of medal contention, but the team still has the attainable goal of being the first Yukon hockey team to get two wins at the Canada Games.
“I think we’re going to get another crack at this team (NWT) and we’re going to try and do better – we want to get our second win,” said Glass. “We wanted to win two games and we’re still on track for that. So we’ll regroup and come back with a better effort.”
Yukon plays Newfoundland again on Wednesday.
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com