Some tired bodies and the loss of a star player may have cost the Whitehorse midget Mustangs a spot in a final last weekend.
Playing the Sylvan Lake Lakers in the semifinal of the Lethbridge Midget AA Tournament in Alberta, the rep team ran out of steam, dropping a 4-2 lead in the third period, eventually losing 5-4 in overtime.
“We had to shorten our bench a little bit and I think our guys were really feeling the effects of the (previous) 7 a.m. game,” said Mustangs head coach Jim Stephens. “Some of our guys were out of gas.
“We were missing two forwards too and that would have helped in that game when we were getting tired.”
Exacerbating the problem of dwindling fuel reserves was the loss of centre Lindsay Meikle, pulled from the game on a hitting-from-behind call.
“We lost one of our key players on a marginal call, on a hit from behind,” said Stephens. “It was one of those where, at the last second, the guy turns; it’s almost self-inflicted.”
The Lakers, who went on to win the tournament, took the game late in overtime on a weak shot that took a bad bounce and slipped by Mustangs goalie Nigel Sinclair-Eckert.
Leading the charge for the Mustangs in the semifinal – and the tournament – was centre Trevor Hanna, racking up four-points with two goals. Hanna totaled 11 over the tournament, five more than any other Mustang.
“He had a great tournament,” said Stephens. “He can change the outcome of a game when he’s playing his ‘A’ game and he had it right through the weekend.
“Nigel Sinclair-Eckert played outstanding in that semifinal.”
Twice overcoming one-goal deficits, the Mustangs advanced to the final with a 4-3 win over Notre Dame. Scoring for Whitehorse were Tyler Wiens with two and Chris Vance with a goal and an assist while Meikle produced a pair of assists.
“We grinded our way through that game,” said Stephens. “We were behind a couple times, but we responded quickly whenever they scored.
“Their goalie was hot – we outshot them by a wide margin.”
Before downing Notre Dame, the Mustangs rolled over the Sherwood Park Oilers, taking the game 5-3. Involved with each goal, Hanna got three goals over five points while teammate Michael Hare had two goals and an assist.
To open the tournament on Friday, the Mustangs suffered a 5-3 loss to the finalist Lethbridge team. Again Hanna was on top with two points while Vance and Charles Dagostin each had goals.
“We came out a little bit flat,” said Stephens. “They had a pretty good forecheck going for a while and we didn’t have our ‘A’ game. At tournaments Whitehorse teams are infamous for having slow starts either because of travel, adjusting to the state of play. (Adjusting to contact play) we had the games the weekend before so we can’t really use that as an excuse.”
The midget Mustangs, which include seven Team Yukon players going to the Canada Winter Games next week, hosted Kelowna’s Pursuit of Excellence midget team the previous weekend, winning two games of a three game series.
In their only other road trip so far this season, the Mustangs took gold at the Midget Memorial Tournament in Abbotsford, BC, in November. The Mustangs will wrap up the hockey season playing in the BC Provincial Championships in Cranbrook, BC, March 20-25
“We have a little over a month (to provincials) and we’re going to work on our conditioning,” said Stephens. “That little extra conditioning can mean the difference between success and failure.”
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