Yukon teams prevailed in the youngest and oldest divisions at the 36th annual Yukon Native Hockey Tournament in Whitehorse on Sunday.
The Whitehorse Wolverines captured the youth title and the Kaska Warriors from Watson Lake were tops in the oldtimer division.
Yukon teams were present in four out of five division finals but, for the second year in a row, were held to two titles, down from four in 2011.
“It was great,” said Wolverines captain Jonas Leas. “We’ve won a lot of tournaments over the years and we’re not going to stop now.
“We’re all friends still and most of them play in the same league. We stay in touch, every single one of us, and it’s great to be able to play as a team again.
“Last year, we were all on different teams so we weren’t able to play together.”
Mark Zuckerberg could have been an honourary manager of the Wolverines.
After a couple years of not playing together, the First Nations team created in 2009 decided to reunite for the tournament through messages send on Facebook.
“They’re terrific players on the ice but they are good friends off the ice,” said Wolverines coach Daryn Leas. “That really makes a strong team: they look out for each other.
“They all keep in contact by way of Facebook, that’s how the band got put back together.”
The Wolverines went undefeated in the tournament and clinched the youth title with a 5-1 win over Old Crow’s Gwich’in Braves in the only final held at the Canada Games Centre and not Takhini Arena like the other four.
Jonas, who won the Top Scorer Award for youth, had a goal and three assists in the final. Mathew Cooper, Jared Morgan, Ethan LaVallee and Cruz Goodman also scored for the Wolverines.
Wolverines goalie Ethan Vanderkley got the win and was named Best Goalie in the division.
Jordan Huebschwerlen scored for the Braves.
“This is the core group and they wanted to come together for their final year in the youth group and they had a strong tournament,” said Daryn.
“They played really well, they were very disciplined and they were a strong team. They played respectably out there. We wanted an emphasis on having fun and coming and competing hard and I think they did that.”
Haines Junction’s Champagne Aishihik Lil’ Storm placed third in the youth division for the second year in a row.
Watson Lake Warriors win
The oldtimer division had a new champion team for the first time in five years.
The Whitehorse Arrows, who won the division the previous four years, were ousted in the quarters, but a Yukon team will be etched onto the trophy just the same.
Watson Lake’s Kaska Warriors went undefeated to win the division for the first time, defeating Old Crow’s North Yukon Eagles 10-4 in the final.
“It was good competition all around and everyone had fun, played hard and we succeeded at the end,” said Warriors coach, manager and forward Don Magun. “There are a lot of hard teams out there and it’s getting tougher and tougher.”
The Warriors defeated the Eagles 8-6 to reach the final. The Eagles then beat third place’s Han Timberwolves from Dawson City to get another shot at the Warriors in the final.
“This is a team we’ve had since the ‘80s … this is the first time we’ve come together in about 10 years and it’s our first time playing in the oldtimer division, too,” said Eagles captain Michael Rispin. “So it’s a good finish for us.
“We had to play this morning and there was an hour between games, so we just ran out of gas.”
Slashers the only to repeat
B.C.‘s Deer River Slashers were the only repeat champions at the tournament, winning the A division for a second year in a row.
They had some extra motivation this year. The Slashers were hoping a win would boost the spirits of Deer River residents following the death of a community doctor, Dr. Ayalew “Al” Kassa, on Friday.
“This year we were playing a little extra hard,” said Slashers captain Ryan Dickie. “We lost one of our community doctors, who was a big part of our lives. So we were playing a little harder to give the community something to cheer about because we’re mourning right now.
“To get the win feels really good.”
The Slashers won the division with a 4-2 win over 2009 champs, EGT Nanooks of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.
Deer River twice came back from down a goal before Slashers’ Clay Plume scored early in the third and D.J. McDougall got the insurance goal with a minute left. McDougall was named Best Defenceman.
“I have to give it to them, they have a pretty good team,” said Nanooks captain Max Kotokak. “Their goalie stood on his head. We couldn’t bury our chances. He did a good job, that guy.”
Slashers goalie Ty Gulickson, who stopped a barrage of shots in the second period, was given the Best Goalie Award.
“He played exceptional all weekend and we knew he would,” said Dickie. “He hadn’t played in a while, so there was a bit of rust there. But once he got that off, he was our best player all weekend.”
“Last year we had a lot of success up here and this year we didn’t know if we were coming back,” he added. “We kind of threw the team together last minute. So with the result, I couldn’t be more happy with the way things turned out.
“To repeat up here is tough. That was a really talented team we played.”
Whitehorse’s Nannock Warriors, who lost in the final last year, took third.
Defending champs downed in jamboree final
The jamboree division likes new teams.
For the second straight year a first-time entry captured the jamboree title.
The Tahltan Selects from Dease Lake, B.C. grabbed the title in one of the most thrilling games on Sunday.
The Selects downed defending champs, the Inland Tlingit Warriors, a Teslin-Whitehorse mixed team, 4-3 in the final.
“Kids from the Tahltan Nation have participated in it before, but never as a group,” said Selects coach Corey Higgins. “This year (assistant coach) Kimberly Nole and myself decided we had enough quality talented (players) in the region and we would throw together a team.
“We practised through the week and everyone stood out,” he added. “We just lost to these guys last night in a barnburner – they got the empty net for a 5-3 win.”
Division MVP Liam Kossman got the game winner – his second of the game – with 4:19 left in the third. Teammate Wyatt Gale had one goal in a three-point performance and Tyrell Miller had a goal and an assist.
Warriors assistant captain Mike Arnold tied the game 3-3 midway through the third. He was the division’s top scorer.
Warriors’ Tyler Charlie had a goal and assist, Jamie Tetlichi had two assists and Malachi LaVallee also scored.
“We played our asses off,” said Warriors captain DeVaughn Davies. “We did our best. I couldn’t ask any better from any from our guys. We put it all out on the ice. The other guys just had a better game than us.”
N.W.T.‘s Inuvik Ice Dogs placed third with a loss to the Selects in the semifinal.
Outlaws steal B division title
K&D Outlaws’ Elton Ruben scored three straight goals for his team in the B division final, but it was teammate James Blake who stole the show.
The K&D Outlaws, of Aklavik, N.W.T., won the division with a late, tiebreaking goal by Blake to put them 5-4 over Pelly Crossing’s Selkirk Bears.
Blake scored with 2:37 left in the game, charging into the Bears end, hitting the breaks, stringing the puck around the Bears defenceman and burying the puck.
Blake was picked up from Fort McPherson for the team.
“We picked up people from Fort MacPherson, Aklavik, Inuvik and Tuk – the whole region,” said Outlaws captain Gary Gordon. “We were put together at the last minute.
“The whole team played good, our goalie (Greg Elias) played good and I have nothing else to say.”
The loss was a tough pill to swallow for the Selkirk Bears, having finished third in the B division the previous three years.
“This year we got second, so it’s the top from the last four years,” said Bears captain Jeremy Harper.
“Every player put in every ounce of energy on that ice, we battled for every inch and we all wanted to work hard. Every single game, whether it weak or strong teams, just out work them – that’s our attitude. And it got us one step closer to the Cup. Hopefully next year it will be ours.”
William Dickson scored twice for the Bears and Zach Moses also found the back of the net. Trevor Hannah, who was the division’s top scorer and named division MVP, scored Pelly Crossing’s first goal of the game.
B.C.‘s Lower Post Eagles finished third.
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