“Come on, Bryce,” shouted a spectator as Mustangs centre Bryce Anderson tore into the Yellowknife end on a breakaway with Wolfpack defenders in hot pursuit.
The three shouted words were doubtlessly running through a lot of people’s minds. They would not be disappointed.
Anderson beat the glove of Wolfpack goalie Gavin Dwyer with what would be the game-winning goal as the Yukon U16 Mustangs beat the Yellowknife Wolfpack 2-1 in the midget division final of the Whitehorse International Showdown at Takhini Arena on Sunday.
“This was probably their first real hockey game, their first real push, their first real challenge,” said Mustangs head coach Martin Lawrie. “They were a little nervous, tired, but they simplified the game and I think we played a pretty smart second and third period.”
With the gold medal win, the U16 Mustangs prevented a sweep for the Wolfpack club, whose teams won the peewee and bantam divisions at the second annual tournament.
“It was a good game, nice and close. I think it could have gone either way,” said Wolfpack head coach Mike Aumond. “They got a great goal to go ahead – that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
The win was a come-from-behind performance for the home team, who went undefeated in five games over the weekend.
The Wolfpack drew first blood with a power play goal from Drake Giroux midway in the second. The Mustangs evened it up late in the period on a goal from forward Mackenzie Benn-Wipp, knocking in a backhand pass through the crease from line-mate Dylan Kindervater. Johnny Elias also picked up an assist on the play.
“It feels pretty good,” said Mustangs goalie Ethan Vanderkley. “The last game was a bit of a challenge.
“That first goal they got on me I really didn’t like, so it kind of helped me out when we got that first one.”
Vanderkley was in net for all five of his team’s wins, posting a 1.5 GAA in the tourney. He was also in net for last year’s bantam final at the Showdown – another game in which the Mustangs defeated the Wolfpack for gold.
After the medal ceremony he was named Player of the Game for the final.
“Ethan started coming into his own last season with the bantams and he’s the number one goalie, for sure,” said Lawrie. “He’s a big part of the team and he’ll be a big part of any success we have going forward.”
The Wolfpack’s midget team won a Tier 2 tourney in Bonnyville, Alta., last month.
The U16 Mustangs, on the other hand, were playing their first tournament games at the Showdown.
Their success shows that the “elite-15” program, established this year by Hockey Yukon for first-year midget players, is working, said Lawrie.
“We had no idea how we were going to do coming into this. But if you look at the kids, where they were in September to where they are right now, I think it’s incredible,” said Lawrie. “Conditioning for sure – there’s no question we were the best conditioned team in this tournament. We were short-benched the entire time.”
The Fort St. John Flyers captured the midget division bronze in a 5-4 win over the Grand Prairie Knights.
Yukon’s U18 Midget Mustangs won the consolation final with a 4-1 win over the Notre Dame Argos from Wilcox, Sask.
The Yukon Mustangs club ended up with one of each medal at the Whitehorse tournament, taking silver in peewee and bronze in bantam. (See coverage on pages 36 and 37.)
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