The Total North Mustangs atom girls hockey team was in Okotoks, Alta., for the Okotoks Female Hockey Classic from Nov. 15 to 17, winning its division.
With a roster that included three first-year novice players, there were no expectations going into the tournament.
“We kind of started off with a bit of a shaky start,” said coach Dan Johnson about the team’s opening game. “They pumped a couple goals past us in the first three minutes and we were left wondering, are we at the wrong tournament? What is going on here? But a lot of that was nerves.”
For a lot of the players it was a new experience to play in a tournament environment, and for the novice players, it was the first time playing full ice with line changes and offsides to worry about.
“We battled back, got a couple and from there we kind of took over the game,” said Johnson. “Once the girls knew they could play with these teams, they kind of took over games.”
The final score in the opening game was 8-6 for the Mustangs over the Okotoks Gold team. Sophie Drummond led the way for the Mustangs with four goals and goalie Lily Sallis-Clark managed to keep her team in it through a slow start.
Drummond was the game MVP and the Mustang Mucker cowboy hat — given to someone with a hard-working, gritty performance — was shared by the Smurf Line, made up of first-year novice aged Maken Johnson, Taiya Joss and Taliyah Ewing.
In the second game, the Mustangs buzzed through the Calgary Inferno 4-1 in a tilt that could have been blown wide open if not for strong goaltending from Calgary. The game MVP was Kasey McKenna and the Mustang Mucker went to Lucy Peart.
Game three was another Mustangs win, as the Okotoks Green team was no match for the Yukoners. The final score was 5-2 for the Mustangs. Game MVP went to Ella Johnston and the Mustang Mucker went to June Grantham.
The final was a rematch with the Okotoks Gold team from game number one.
Okotoks struck first, taking the lead just seconds into the game. A steady stream of shots from the Mustangs eventually paid dividends as the two teams were tied 1-1 after the first period.
Two goals in the second and two more in the third secured a 5-1 win for the Mustangs. MVP went to the defensive pair of Danica Johnson and Maya Bulmer, while goalie Lily Sallis-Clark won the Mustang Mucker award.
For Dan, the rapid growth of the team was what stood out.
“The biggest thing with this weekend was just watching the explosion of some of these players,” said Dan. “Every player in that group from game one to game four just changed. Some of them more than others, but every one of them you were just seeing development in front of your eyes.”
As an example, the coaching staff explained to the defence that a cross-ice pass would free up that player for a rush and that the team took to the tactic instantly, said Dan.
“They did that and it worked,” said Dan. “All of a sudden, they were doing that all the time. It’s like you were watching this hockey team concept, that we haven’t had time to teach outside of skill development, happening as we watched. That’s pretty cool to see.”
The team will be on the ice in Whitehorse taking part in the upcoming Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association jamboree later this month.
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org