Sportsmanship extends beyond being a gracious loser, it’s also about being a gracious winner.
Last weekend at the President’s Day Tournament in Anchorage, Alaska, the Wolverines, Whitehorse’s First Nations developmental atom hockey team, got to practise the latter but none of the former.
Going 5-0 at the tournament and outscoring their competition 45-3, the Wolverines finished first out of eight teams in the tournament’s B division.
“Truth be known, we were trying to get in the higher division, a notch up, but apparently they wouldn’t let our team go into that because we had three kids that were eight years old,” said Wolverines coach Randy Merkel.
“Aside from the fact that we were in a division that we shouldn’t have been in, the most important thing is that the kids had a lot of fun.”
To capture the gold, the Wolverines defeated the Delta Junction Huskies 6-1 in the final. The two teams had clashed in the round robin section of the tournament with a similar 5-1 outcome – the Wolverines’ closest game.
In each the Huskies opened the scoring before the Wolverines came to life, putting in a bevy of unanswered goals.
“They had a pretty short bench, but if they had two or three more players, it could have been a good game between us,” said Merkel.
The Wolverines started the tournament with their most lopsided game, defeating the Glacier Dogs from Anchorage 18-0 – that’s not a misprint. It was the first of a few games in which Merkel had to pull on the reins and slow his team, hoping to avoid other blowouts that could be discouraging to their competition.
“I said, ‘No more goals – none,’” said Merkel. “I tried to hold them back a little bit in that game.
“Once that game was over I realized we were in the wrong division.”
As it turned out, the emphasis placed on pacing instead of scoring turned out to be good practice in an area that needed it.
“After having two or three games of having to pass the puck around, they were really passing it (well) and I think they learned some things there this weekend,” said Merkel. “I could really see them with their heads up. They were looking around and passing the puck.
“They were starting to discover passing, which is one of the things I’ve been harping about.”
The Wolverines received further practice at good sportsmanship with back-to-back games against a girls’ team from Anchorage, the Lady Mustangs, winning 8-0 and 8-1.
“We could have beaten them by a lot more, but the boys showed a lot of class and respect,” said Merkel.
“Some people came over to us and extended their thanks and told us we were very gracious and good to the girls.
“The boys felt pretty good about that too.”
Leading his team for goals was Wolverine Jesse McCuaig, amassing 11 goals including five in the 18-0 blowout against the Glacier Dogs.
“The last couple games Jesse was playing really well,” said Merkel. “I held him back – there would have been a lot more (goals) than that.”
Other top scorers were Jonas Leas with six and Kaine Comin with four – two coming in the gold medal game. Trenton Dupont and Henry Itsi each had three.
“I felt the team took a big jump in camaraderie and unity because of this road trip,” said Merkel. “For many of these kids it was their first road trip they’ve been on and for many of them it was their first gold medal.”
However, not all of the experience was about hockey.
“They got to go to Chuck E. Cheese and to a water park – this is the big city to these kids,” said Merkel. “They really had a great time.”
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