Remember the Spartans? The peewee Mustangs do.
Winless, short-benched and down by a handful of goals in their final game at the Camrose Peewee AA Kodiaks Tournament in Alberta, the peewee Mustangs drew on a little Hollywood inspiration to keep spirits high and the fight burning inside.
“We asked the guys who watched the movie 300 and who had some quotes from it,” said Mustangs head coach Dan Johnson. “We tried to get it into their head that this is the deal. We’re losing bodies left and right, we’re losing the game pretty bad, but all we can do is continue to battle and they really bought into that.”
Much like the famed 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, the Mustangs were the underdogs in Camrose over the weekend, playing their first contact games of the season against teams who are halfway through a season of league contact games.
“These were upper Tier 3 teams, so for us to jump into that against teams with 15 games under their belts in league play, it was a tough spot to put our kids in,” said Johnson.
However, as beleaguered as the team could be at times, they never threw in the towel.
“The good news was the effort didn’t stop; the kids kept battling until the last whistle,” said Johnson.
As for the Spartan inspiration, it seemed to work in that final game.
Down 6-0 against the Sprucegrove Saints, the Mustangs went goal-for-goal to end the game in an 8-2 loss with goals from Chance Goodman and Daniel Moses.
“The final game was our favourite game, despite the outcome,” said Johnson. “We lost four or five guys to injuries, we were down on the bench, we had guys in the dressing room getting checked out for concussions left, right and centre. The guys really bought into the warrior personality we want them to have.”
Getting the Mustangs’ Grinder Award, given out to the player who sacrifices his body for the benefit of the team, was Ryan Troke while goalie Josh Tetlichi was named MVP.
“Josh stood on his head,” said Johnson. “He was on fire. I think he made 51 saves and he had a huge game.
“Josh had a bad 10 minutes, but then shut the door for the next 45 minutes.”
The Mustangs began the tournament with some tough competition, playing last season’s AA provincial champions, the hosting Camrose Kodiaks. With goals from Jonas Leas and Moses, the Mustangs lost 6-2 to the home team.
“We started off the first game with a lot of nerves,” said Johnson. “When you’re 11 or 12 years old, your first contact, competitive game of the year, it’s going to be a little bit of a shock to the system. And we showed it.”
Named his team’s MVP for the game was Matt Butler.
“He battled, he came to play, he was a little pitbull in our own end,” said Johnson. “He threw his body around, showed no fear.”
Allowing six unanswered goals to end the game, the Mustangs suffered an 11-2 thumping from the Lloydminister Blazers in their second game. Scoring for the Mustangs were Ryan Troke and Nick Dobush.
In a much more exciting game, the Whitehorse Mustangs took on the Morinville Mustangs, losing 8-6. In the game, the Whitehorse crew battled back from 5-3 to tie the game 6-6, before Morinville scored on a penalty shot and then put in another in the dying minutes of the game.
“That was a little bit of a heartbreaking loss, but it was a good battle overall,” said Johnson. “The big thing again is that the kids kept working, didn’t cash in the chips.
“They had their first little taste of success. They saw themselves score some goals and have some success on offence.”
Getting the Grinder Award was Riley Smoler, who scored two goals. Named MVP was goaltender Devon Troke.
“Throughout the tournament our goaltending was one area that we were heads above the other teams,” said Johnson. “Both of our goalies, Devon Troke and Josh Tetlichi, could have started on any of the teams down there.”
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