With every game the score got closer and closer, even as opponents got tougher and tougher, but the Female Mustangs came away winless at the Wickenheiser Female World Hockey Festival in Calgary last weekend.
The Whitehorse rep team went 0-4, playing up a division in Tier 2A – the second highest of five divisions at the event, hosted by Canadian Olympic hockey great Hayley Wickenheiser.
“We played up a level and the girls did great,” said Mustangs captain Sierra Oakley. “The first couple of games are always the hardest, just trying to get into it and seeing what you’re up against. But after a while we started to pick up a lot and we almost won a couple.”
The Mustangs came out a little flat and dropped their first two games Friday, losing 6-0 to N.W.T.‘s Canada Winter Games team and 6-2 to the Fort Saskatchewan Fury.
They finished the tournament with two one-goal losses, falling 4-3 to the Airdrie Lightning and 1-0 to the Edmonton Shock.
“We came out a bit flatfooted,” said Mustangs head coach Louis Bouchard. “It was the first game of the tournament and most of our players aren’t used to playing at that level. Going from house league bantam to midget Tier 2 was a big step. So they were shell-shocked on the ice and the other team took advantage of that.”
In the loss to the Fury, the Mustangs got on the board with a first-period goal from winger Mikaila Blanchard, assisted by Oakley and defenceman Mary McBride.
Whitehorse then got one in the third from forward Mykhaila McInroy, assisted by Maddie Nicholson and goalie Ali Nordahl.
In the game against the Airdrie Lightning, the Mustangs got two goals from Nicholson and a shorthanded one from defenceman Sophie Janke, earning an MVP nod. Centre Hannah Nordland had two assists. Oakley and McInroy also picked up assists.
“I don’t usually complain about the refereeing, but that one we got robbed. The referee took it away from us,” said Bouchard. “We were the only team to get any penalties. They gave (Airdrie) a penalty shot against us – which Maya (Oakley) made the save.
“At the end of the game we were down by one goal, but we figured we could make it up. We still have seven and a half minutes, we had the momentum. Then the referee came over and said, ‘The tournament is running late, so we’re cutting five minutes off.’”
To make matters worse, the game started late because the Lightning left the locker room wearing the wrong colour jerseys.
“And then they gave us a penalty in the last two and a half minutes that were left,” added Bouchard.
The Mustangs finished with a 1-0 loss to the Edmonton Shock, who went on to reach the final.
Whitehorse goalie Maya Oakley gave a standout performance between the pipes, stopping 37 or 38 shots.
“My sister Maya, in the last game, did very well,” said Sierra. “Thirty-eight shots and she stopped 37 – it was awesome. And I think they missed a couple.”
“We lost 1-0, but she was awesome in net,” said Bouchard.
Not only were the Mustangs playing up a division, they were competing against older teams. The Fury team was all second- and third-year midgets, while the Mustangs’ youngest player is 11-year-old Zoe Leas.
N.W.T. came with nine 17-year-olds to the Mustangs’ three.
“It makes a big difference at that age,” said Bouchard.
The Mustangs were missing two players on the trip because of injuries, and lost two more to injuries at the tourney.
Shania Hogan was hit from behind in the last game – no penalty called.
Against Airdrie, Chyanne Spenner was speared in the side and got bruised ribs – no penalty called.
“All the girls played great, they were trying their hardest,” said Oakley. “We had a bunch of injuries … Chyanne was speared in the previous game, had a couple bruised ribs and it was harder for her to breathe. So she stayed on the bench.”
“Basically any obstacle that could be thrown at us, was,” she added. “We just went around it and all the girls stayed positive. It was awesome.”
The Whitehorse team could likely get another shot at the N.W.T. squad when they trade Mustangs jerseys for Team Yukon jerseys and head the Canada Winter Games this February in Prince George.
While the Mustangs started cold, N.W.T. had already played two exhibition games against a Red Deer Tier 2 team before the tournament.
“I don’t think the score portrayed how we played in that game, I thought we played a lot better than that,” said Oakley.
“We can play at that level. We just need more games at that level so we don’t start the tournament flatfooted,” said Bouchard.
Last year the Female Mustangs went 3-2 to place second in the tournament’s Tier 3 midget division.
The Mustangs, then the Northern Avalanche, competed in the inaugural Wickenheiser tournament in 2010, winning gold in the Tier 3 draw.
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