The Whitehorse Bantam Mustangs weren’t galloping out the gate at the Kelowna Minor Hockey Tournament in Kelowna, B.C., over the weekend.
However, the representative hockey team twice overcame slow starts to reach the semi-final, tying for third out of 12 teams, at the tier 3 and 4 tournament.
“We have a bad habit of getting behind,” admitted Mustangs coach Barry Blisner. “We were happy because we feel those are the kind of teams we’re going to face at the provincials at the end of the year.”
The Mustangs went 2-1-1 at the tournament, going undefeated in their pool’s round-robin to advance to the playoffs where they lost 4-0 to the Kamloops Blazers.
The Whitehorse squad opened the tournament with consecutive comebacks.
Playing the hosting Kelowna Rockets, the Mustangs came back from down 2-0 to win 5-3. Doing the most damage was forward Delean McQuaig with three goals while teammate Jack Blisner had a multiple-point game with two assists.
“We were actually out-playing them fairly consistently over the whole game,” said coach Blisner. “There was a five-minute stretch where they scored a couple goals and got up on us, but once that happened we really turned it around.
“To be honest, that was our strongest game of the tournament, I thought. They were a very good skating team, so we were really happy with that win.”
The Mustangs then found themselves in a 4-1 hole against the North Vancouver Storm before squeaking out a 6-6 tie. McQuaig got another hat trick while teammate Kole Comin registered two goals and Marcus McLeod two assists.
No comeback was needed in the final round-robin game, running roughshod over the Summerland Jets in a 10-4 victory.
“With the tie the night before, we knew (playoff positioning) was going to come down to goals for and against,” said coach Blisner. “So it’s one of those ones where you don’t want to run up the score, but at the same time we knew North Vancouver had beat them by 10 (goals) the game before. So we knew we couldn’t really lay off too much.
“To be honest, Summerland played a good game. It was 4-2, 5-3 for most of the game.”
Whitehorse’s Malachi La Vallee had a four-point game with a goal and three assists, Karter Kazakoff a goal and two assists, and Comin with the hat trick.
Although shutout in the following semi-final, the game was closer than the score indicates. The Blazers held a narrow one-goal lead for most of the first and second periods and were outshot 29-21 by the Mustangs.
“And their goalie was the first star, so we couldn’t be too upset,” said coach Blisner.
“It was one of those things where we needed to get that tying goal and I think the second goal kind of deflated us a bit. We ran out of gas.
“It was a 6 a.m. game, so I think both teams were a little slow to get going.”
The Blazers went on to lose a tight 4-3 contest in the final to Castlegar, B.C.
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