Before of the start of the Dallas Saunders Bantam Tier 1 Tournament in Abbotsford, some B.C. coaches were griping about how a Tier 3 team was allowed to enter.
The complaints were short-lived.
The Tier 3 Bantam Mustangs won one, tied one and sent a third team scrambling to keep their lead at the tournament over the weekend.
“The guys were in the fight of it, right in the mix,” said Mustangs assistant coach Carl Burgess. “Besides that weird game against Hollyburn, they realized they were doing just fine and could have gone further in the tournament.”
The Whitehorse rep team went 1-1-2 at the tourney with a one-goal loss to start.
“We were two goals away from finishing first in our pool but we finished fourth,” said Burgess. “If we turned a one-goal loss into a tie and a tie into a win … we could have come first in our pool and gone straight to the medal rounds.”
The Mustangs opened the tournament with a 3-2 loss to the Prince George Cougars with two goals from forward Bryce Anderson and an assist from captain Joe Stokes.
The loss should come with an asterisk. The Mustangs fought back from down 3-0 in the third before the game was cut short due to a problem with the rink.
“Due to some rink malfunctions they had to cut our third period by six stop-time minutes, which we think would have made the difference for us,” said Burgess. “We all realized this wasn’t a long shot … They fully deserved to be there and fully demonstrated it.”
“I feel our first game, against Prince George, was probably our best game as a team,” said Stokes, who was named his team’s MVP in the game. “Other than the start, I think we were running on all cylinders and played well.
“We had them on their heels at the end, but unfortunately it was only a 14-minute third period.”
Following a 6-0 loss to North Vancouver’s Hollyburn Huskies, in which Anderson got the MVP nod, the Mustangs got back on track with a 3-3 tie to the hosting Abbotsford Hawks.
The Huskies went on to take the bronze in the 16-team tourney.
“They were a very big, extremely skilled team and it took everything we had to get there,” said Burgess. “A couple bounces one way or another and we could have walked away from that with a win.”
Stokes scored twice, forward Dylan Cozens added one and Anderson notched two assists. Mustangs goalie Ethan Vanderkley was named game MVP.
“It was a real eye-opener for players and parents in that there was one to two dozen scouts at every game,” said Burgess. “It was heavily watched and our boys generated a lot of interest and might have developed some opportunities for themselves … We got a bunch of interesting questions as coaches.
“In the crowd there were academies, junior teams, WHL teams, major midget teams all looking. We had a couple games where there were literally 20 guys in the stands with clipboards taking notes.”
One Whitehorse player was scouted and received an invite to a prestigious camp, but the News has agreed to not release that information until it is made official.
The Mustangs went out on a high note in Abbotsford with a 7-5 come-from-behind win over the Ridge Meadows Rustlers.
Cozens scored four goals, assisted two others and got the MVP nod. Anderson had a three-point game with a goal, Stokes posted a goal and assist and forward Johnny Elias also scored.
The Mustangs scored four in the third period with an empty-netter at the end for the win.
“For whatever reason, we start slow and have teams scrambling by the third period,” said Burgess. “That showed up in spades at the tournament. That’s what we’re going to work on going towards provincials.”
The Mustangs can’t let the classification of a team intimidate them. They need to go into games with more confidence, said Stokes.
“We’re from a Tier 3 town and you look at a Tier 1 (team), it’s almost a mental game and you just have to overcome that and realize you are as good as those teams and play like it – not play like you’re not as good as them,” said Stokes.
The Bantam Mustangs have already had plenty of success against higher tier teams this season.
They went undefeated to capture gold at the 12th annual Seafair International Ice Breaker Rep Tournament – a Tier 2 tournament – in October.
During a road trip on Vancouver Island in December, the Mustangs produced four wins and one loss against four Tier 1 teams in exhibition games.
“I’m just very happy with how the boys competed,” said Mustangs head coach Martin Lawrie. “They have shown that they can play with some of the best teams in B.C.”
“I thought we played really good and surprised a couple teams there,” added Stokes. “We played well throughout the tournament and I think moving forward we just have to play that way and we’ll do good at the Tier 3 provincials.”
Nine players from the Bantam Mustangs, including scoring leaders Anderson, Cozens and Stokes, will play for Team Yukon in the second week of the Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C.
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