With players from opposing teams averaging a 14-kilo, two-year age advantage, Team Yukon was smaller, younger and less experienced than the competition in Richmond, BC, last week.
But it didn’t seem to matter much. Just ask the teams they defeated.
In fact, the Yukoners won silver in the AA division silver flight of the 30th annual Richmond International Midget Hockey Tournament, far exceeding the expectations of the coaching staff.
“We were coming into this tournament hoping to keep it competitive. If we could win a game against these teams, it would be a bonus,” said Team Yukon coach Jay Glass. “Like that was our objective, to keep competitive and not get blown out. So we totally exceeded our expectations on this trip.”
Made up from last-year bantams and first-year midgets to conform to the age restrictions of the Canada Winter Games, where they will represent the territory next month in Halifax, Team Yukon squeaked into the playoffs of the second highest flight of the AA midget division, reaching the finals, where they lost 5-2 to the Kelowna Rockets, dropping a 2-1 lead in the third period.
“It was a situation again where they were a big strong midget team,” said Glass. “They tied it in the third and we got a couple penalties and they got a couple power play goals.
“The truth of the matter is those seven games were real hard games on our young kids and we basically ran out of gas in that third period. They threw their biggest, best two lines at us.
“It might have been a different story if we were fresh. But we’re 14- and 15-year-olds playing against, 16- and 17-year-olds, so those seven games in five days were really tough on us.”
Scoring for the Yukon in the final were Riley Pettitt and Jared Steinbach.
Yukon advanced to the final with an exciting 3-2 win over the Vancouver Spirit in the semi. Up 2-1 with goals from Tyson Glass and Wyatt Gale, Yukon allowed a last-minute goal from Vancouver, who had pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. However, while Jay Glass was already mentally assembling lines for a 10-minute, four-on-four overtime, winger Trevor Whynot flung a wrist shot from the faceoff circle, finding the mesh on the far side of the net.
“While I was figuring out my lineup for the overtime, we scored with 18 seconds left!” said Glass. “I think everybody was shocked. They tied and then we scored – it was crazy. And, of course, everybody went nuts.”
Team Yukon reached the semis with a 6-1 thumping of the Alaska All-Stars 16-and-under team from Anchorage.
“They were only one-year older than us, on average, so they kind of leveled the playing field,” said Glass. “That was one of our best games. It wasn’t a blowout like it sounds.”
Running roughshod over their Alaskan neighbours in the third with four goals, Whynot and Steinbach each produced two goals in the game while Tyson Glass and Matt McCarthy each registered a goal and assist.
“In the third period we took it to them and ran away with it a little bit,” said Glass.
Even before the playoffs, Team Yukon was in a do-or-die situation. Finishing the round-robin with a 1-2-1 record in the end, Yukon needed a win – or at least a tie – over the Nanaimo Clippers to advance.
Rising to the situation, Yukon got through in a 3-2 win with Pettitt scoring the game winner with two-and-a-half minutes to spare.
In a series of exhibition games in Calgary at the end of October, Team Yukon defeated a bantam AAA team, the Okotoks Oilers, and then suffered sizable losses to midget AA teams of the same calibre as in the Richmond tournament.
With that in mind, Jay Glass sees tremendous improvement with his team, but there’s still some fine-tuning to be done for the Canada Games.
“Basically, we’re going to continue to work on our neutral zone and offensive zone, our 1-2-2 trap that we’re playing to keep teams at bay and not give them the neutral zone,” said Glass. “In our own end we need to be determined, boring and gritty; we have to be really tough in our own end.”
In Halifax at the Games, Yukon is in Pool C with the other bottom-three ranked teams, having finished 11th at the last Canada Winter Games in 2007. Needing two wins to advance to the playoff stage of the tournament, a feat not yet accomplished by a boys’ Yukon team, the squad will be looking for wins over Newfoundland, PEI and NWT, who the Yukon boys took a win off of – the Yukon boys’ only win at a Canada Games – in 2007.
“Again, we’re just hoping to be competitive in our division,” said Glass. “To come out of that pool, we’re going to need to win two games to get to some sort of playoff game. No Yukon team has ever won more than one game.
“Our objective is to win two games there. Obviously it’s tough to be competitive with the big provinces.
“I was talking to the BC coach and they had 1,000 players tryout to represent BC – all of them (were born in) ‘95. We had 38 players split between ‘95s and ‘96s.
“That would be our gold medal, to win a couple of games, and be competitive in our other games and never give up.”
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