Girls’ team takes silver in close final

Pulling the goalie in the final minutes of a game will often result in an empty-netter for the opposing team. However, for the Northern Avalanche girls’ hockey team the trick got them out of a bind – twice in a row.

Pulling the goalie in the final minutes of a game will often result in an empty-netter for the opposing team. However, for the Northern Avalanche girls’ hockey team, which will represent the territory as Team Yukon at next month’s Canada Winter Games in Halifax, the trick worked – twice in a row.

Down 2-0 in the finals of the Angels on Ice AA hockey tournament last week in Langley, BC, the Avalanche closed the gap to 2-1 with the extra attacker on. Then, after installing goalie Jocelyn Wynnyk for the faceoff, the Avalanche pulled her again and tied the game with a minute left.

Unfortunately for the Yukon team, a bad bounce off the boards caught the Avalanche defence out of position and the Tri-City Predators scored the game-winner with just two seconds on the clock, giving the Avalanche the silver.

“We were tired – it was late in the third period,” said Avalanche head coach Louis Bouchard. “Our system broke down and they capitalized on it.

“The goal was to play hard all through the tournament and make the top-two, so we reached our goal,” he said of the tournament. “We lost the final game, but we had a bunch of injuries – the tournament was starting to hurt us. So we’re satisfied with the results, the girls played hard, they came back from a two-goal deficit to tie it with a minute to go in the third period.”

Making the brief comeback all the more special, both goals were scored by Faro’s Tshayla Nothstein, who, like more than half the team, comes from outside Whitehorse.

“Tshayla is a new kid on the team,” said Bouchard. “She moved to Whitehorse to play on the Canada Games team and she’s a very talented, young hockey player.

“She’s never played on an all-girls team. This is her first year and this was her second tournament. The first tournament was the first time she was flying out anywhere.

“She’s very talented, she’s got the moves and we expect a lot from her at the Canada Games.”

“She’s a lot of fun to be around,” said Avalanche captain Savannah vanVliet of Nothstein. “I’m not worried when she takes the puck down (the ice) – I’m not worried about anyone on the team, but I know she won’t panic. She’s great to have on the bench.”

“It’s really cool to see a team pull together like that,” added the Haines Junction native. “To get the two medals in the last two tournaments has been great.

“We got bumped up a tier and we upped our game for that, and it showed. It’s helping us get ready for Halifax.”

The Avalanche opened the tournament in a 1-0 win over the Langley Lightning with defenceman Tamara Greek finding the back of the net. The win also marked the sixth straight tournament shutout for Wynnyk in net.

The Yukon squad then went over the South Delta Storm 2-1 with both goals coming off the stick of centre Linsey Eby, who scored on her first shift of the game.

“We dominated both teams,” said Bouchard. “The girls played awesome. It was a 1-0 win for us (against the Lightning), but we put over 30 shots on net.”

“We’re playing pretty well defensively, in our end,” said vanVliet. “We’re still struggling to forecheck in the neutral zone, but we keep working on that in practice and the coaches are drilling that into us pretty well, so I’m sure we’ll have that down soon.”

The two early wins were enough to qualify the Avalanche for the finals, even with a 2-0 loss to the Predators in their third game of the tournament.

“We spent more time in their zone than they did in ours,” said Bouchard. “It was tough physically on our players; a bunch of our players went on the disabled list after that game. We had to send two to the hospital – with nothing serious, but we don’t want to take any chances. It messed up our lines (for the final) and they weren’t playing as a team.”

In their first tournament of the season, at the Wickenheiser Hockey Festival in Burnaby during November, (a tier below last week’s tournament), the Avalanche went undefeated en route to a gold medal. Completely dominating, the Avalanche outscored the competition 23-1 over five games.

While next month Whitehorse will be put in the spotlight as the capital hosts CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada, the Avalanche will be getting similar exposure in the near future.

It was announced on Tuesday that the team will appear on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada pre-game show, Scotiabank Hockey Tonight, on January 15 to introduce that evening’s games. The Avalanche, which is one of 25 minor hockey teams from across the country to be given the honour over the season, will be taping their segment at the Canada Games Centre on Saturday.

“There’s 40 days until the Canada Games, so we’re shifting into high gear now,” said Bouchard. “We’re going to work a lot on defensive play. We’re going to concentrate on regaining our health and staying away from injuries, so we can hit the ice in Halifax with a full crew.

“Our first game is supposed to be against Quebec, so that one is going to be tough.”

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com