It took a few tries, but the Whitehorse Atom Jr. Mustangs figured out how to clip the wings of the Mat-Su Eagles from Wasilla, Alaska.
After three losses to the Eagles, the Mustangs squeaked out a 3-2 nail-biter win over the Alaskans in the final of the Whitehorse International Atom Hockey Tournament at Takhini Arena on Sunday.
Team-play along with grit and determination won the day, said Mustangs head coach Clint Mylymok.
“The Alaskan team in the tournament played great,” he said. “I think they were great competition for our guys to see what top-level hockey is.
“We played a simpler game than we have. It was the first time they played as a team and not as guys trying to do their own thing.
“A lot of the kids are a little banged up, but I told them you’re going to get banged up to win a game.”
The Mustangs earned a spot in the final with a pair of wins over the Fort Nelson Fury. The Eagles arrived in the final undefeated, having defeated the Mustangs 6-1 in the two teams’ previous encounter on Saturday.
“It’s always nice to see the kids getting better and better every game,” said Mustangs assistant coach Pat Brunet. “As the tournament went along different players stepped up at different times.
“But beating a team that you lost to 6-1 the game prior, and then beating them in the finals 3-2, really shows a lot of character and that the kids really stepped up when it mattered. It’s really nice to see.”
Twice in the final the Mustangs took one-goal leads before the Eagles put in tying goals.
Tied 2-2, Mustangs’ Huss Breithhaup took a pass from behind the net from Jayden Hardie and delivered the winning goal – his first of the tournament – on a backhand with 1:52 left in regulation.
Hardie scored the Mustangs’ first goal to make it 1-0 with 7:35 left in the second period. Teammate Landon Marsh scored Whitehorse’s second goal, assisted by Joey Schultz, to make it 2-1 with 7:54 left in the second.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done at the end. The Whitehorse team stepped up and played great,” said Eagles head coach Jeff Woolcott. “I give full credit to the Whitehorse club. Those guys came out and absolutely played their hearts out. I knew, being in their home city, they weren’t just going to give it to us.
“For us, we were fatigued. We played six games before this – we played one just an hour and 15 minutes before. We were tired.”
Leading the charge for Whitehorse over the weekend were Schultz and Ashton Underhill, each with four goals and an assist. Errol Ekholm had two goals and four assists while teammates Marsh and Connor Cozens each had two goals and two assists.
Mustangs goalies Naoise Dempsey and Aiden Power split the games through the tournament.
“Our goalies were great,” said Mylymok. “I thought their goalie was good, but for the one game our goalies were better.”
The Fort Nelson Fury went winless in the tournament with some rather lopsided losses. Since Fort Nelson sent a house league team, the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association altered the schedule and set up a game between the Fury and Whitehorse house league team Titan Gaming.
The game ended in a 3-3 tie. Titan’s Hunter Long scored once and MVP Christopher Arsenault scored twice.
“Fort Nelson thought it was more of a house league level tournament and kind of misgauged the competition, so they were a little overwhelmed by the level of play of the two rep teams,” said Whitehorse Minor president Carl Burgess. “They do have experience competing at a high level, but we just made some adjustments so they could have fun.”
Burgess considered the tournament a success and hopes to make it an annual event, perhaps trying it with different age divisions in the coming years.
Hosting tournaments make a lot of sense, economically speaking, he added.
“We may have come close to breaking even, but even if we’re just close, that’s a huge success to have,” said Burgess. “It costs anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 for a team to travel to a tournament, so hosting a tournament makes some great sense. We wish we had more weekends in the year so we could do it for every division.”
“The kids were on pins and needles and they just had a wonderful experience here,” said Woolcott. “Whitehorse has been so nice and accommodating and we just can’t thank them enough. We would love to see this (tournament) built in the coming years.”
The Whitehorse tournament was the Atom Jr. Mustangs’ first of the season.
The rec team will next travel to Alberta for the Leduc Adam Myers Memorial Tournament this coming weekend.
“For us, it was real important that they played some tough competition before we go to Leduc,” said Mylymok. “So when we go to Leduc and face a good team, they won’t be too worried about it. They’ve seen a good team already.
“That was probably as good a team that we’ll face this year.”
The Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association will take up hosting duties again next month for Hockey Day in Whitehorse and Mustangs Night Dec. 6-8.
Four Outside teams are looking to visit Whitehorse to compete against Mustangs teams from peewee to midget.
Contact Tom Patrick at