The Whitehorse atom Mustangs don’t know the meaning of quit.
The rep team pulled off three come-from-behind wins on their way to a bronze at the 33rd annual Lloyd Head Atom Tournament last weekend in Grande Prairie, Alberta.
“In all of our victories, we were losing at some point, and the kids battled back really hard to win them,” said Mustangs head coach Mike L’Henaff. “It was really good character building for the kids all weekend and it was good to see.”
The Mustangs took third with a 4-3 win over the Dawson Creek Canucks, the tournament favourite. The Canucks were ranked 16th in Alberta going into the tourney.
“It was a very exciting game. It was pretty physical for an atom hockey game,” said L’Henaff. “They tried to impose their will on us, but we pushed back and wouldn’t allow it. I think it took them by surprise, that we wouldn’t back off and let them win.”
Down 3-2 late in the third period, the Mustangs tied the game on a penalty shot taken by forward Bryce Anderson, falling after a move but still getting a shot off to score.
The Mustangs then took the win in regulation with winger Joe Stokes getting the game winner on a power play. Assisted by Lukas Jirousek, who had two in the game, the goal completed the hat trick for Stokes.
“He was probably our most consistent player throughout, other than our goaltender Campbell Burdenie,” said L’Henaff. “They were overall our best players.”
Whitehorse went 2-1 in the tournament’s round-robin, finishing second in their pool, placing them in the bronze game against the Canucks.
After a pair of lopsided losses in exhibition games, the Mustangs bounced back to open the tournament with a 5-3 win over the Red Deer Chiefs, the tournament’s second seed, scoring three unanswered goals in the third period. Jirousek scored four goals while Niall Lawrie produced a goal and an assist.
“It was a big game for us, the boys really proved we weren’t going to go away at this tournament,” said L’Henaff.
“I think it opened a lot of people’s eyes down there.”
Once again coming from behind, the Mustangs downed the CNN Spurs from Gibbons, Alberta 6-5 with Goodman getting three assists.
“That was one of his better games,” said L’Henaff of Goodman. “I know Payton (Fobe) had a really good game for us.”
As good as the Mustangs were at overcoming deficits, it was too high a mountain to climb in their final round-robin game, losing 10-1 against the Grande Prairie Vipers. (The Vipers, who were undefeated at the tournament, went on to take first for the first time since 1993 with a 6-3 win over the Strathcona Warriors in the gold medal game.)
“We lost our focus pretty early in the Saturday night game against Grande Prairie,” said L’Henaff. “We had a tough time. Most of our kids weren’t really focused and we had a couple of key injuries early in the game that kind of knocked us down. We just couldn’t battle back. That was our fifth game in four days, so the kids were a little tired.”
Scoring the Mustangs’ lone goal was Goodman, assisted by Anderson and Johnny Elias.
“Johnny Elias, Isaac Williamson and Wyatt Peterson – the growth and everything they showed over the weekend,” said L’Henaff.
“They improved quite a bit in terms of effort and attitude, which is really good to see. Some of our younger players really stepped up when called upon and needed.”
“It was a first class tournament and in the future, if any of our teams want to support it, I’d go down,” he added. “(I’d like to) thank all our sponsors. Without them, with the cost associated, it wouldn’t be possible.”
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