No one wants to see cheap hits on the ice during a hockey game, but one against the Bantam A Mustangs was just what the team needed on Sunday.
Down 1-0 in the final of the Alberni Valley New Years Tournament in Port Alberni, B.C. on Vancouver Island, Mustangs goalie Josh Tetlichi was bowled over on an illegal hit from a player on the Kerry Park Islanders from the Victoria area.
It was like a bucket of cold water on the Whitehorse rep team.
The Mustangs tied the game just 12 seconds into the resulting five-minute penalty from the hit.
Tetlichi stayed in the game as his team went on to win the final 7-4 over the Islanders and take gold in the Tier 2/3 tournament.
“It upset our guys; they were pretty upset about it,” said Mustangs head coach Barry Blisner, describing his team’s reaction to the hit. “We had to calm down our guys and there wasn’t much they could do about it because the guy was (tossed from the game). So we just said, ‘Make them pay.’ And they did.
“It was a real turning point for the game,” he added. “We only scored one goal in that penalty, but up to that point they were outplaying us.”
The Mustangs lost their opening game of the tournament before producing four straight wins en route to gold.
In all four wins Mustangs winger Levi Johnson scored a hat trick.
“Levi had a really, really good tournament,” said Blisner. “He’s probably the one guy on our team I would consider a true sniper.
“He’s a big kid and when he gets the puck in front of the net, he’s tough to handle. We tell guys on the ice, ‘When he’s going to the front of the net, get him the puck.’”
Also scoring in the final was forward Nick Dobush with a goal and an assist, defenseman Caleb Marsh with a goal and an assist, plus forwards Chance Goodman and Gavin Lawrie. Defenseman Jack Blisner and forward Riley Smoler each had three assists.
“It was a very physical game … We lost one guy the game before and two guys in that game (to injuries),” said Barry.
The Mustangs advanced through the semifinal in a 7-1 thumping of the Oceanside Generals. Tetlichi was in net for the win as Marsh, Goodman, Smoler, Sam Logan each scored.
“We kind of rely on the same core of five guys from last year,” said Barry. “Those five guys tend to lead us, but guys like Smoler, Lawrie, Butler, Ryan Macdonald, all had good tournaments.”
After their opening game, a 4-3 loss to the Islanders, the Mustangs beat the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 7-2 and the North Vancouver Storm 5-1 in the round-robin.
Suspecting that advancement to the playoffs could be decided by goal differentials, the Mustangs had little choice but to run up the score in the two round-robin wins.
“With our 2-1 record we tied Kerry Park and Alberni Valley, but our goal differential ended up being plus-10,” said Barry. “Like in any tournament, you don’t really like running up the score, but at the same time, you can’t stop scoring because that’s usually the tiebreaker.”
The loss to the Islanders in the round-robin only made the win in the finals all the more sweet. Being capable of bouncing back from a bad first-game was also a character-builder for the team, said Barry.
“It was one of our worst games defensively in a while, but Devon Troke, our goalie, held us in,” said Barry.
Sunday’s was the Bantam A Mustangs’ second gold medal performance so far this season. The Mustangs went undefeated at the Winfield Bantam Rep Invitational at the end of November. Whitehorse outscored the competition 27-6 and posted three straight shutouts to win gold at the Tier 3 tourney.
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