Yellowknife tops Whitehorse in Air North Challenge

Rep hockey teams from Yellowknife and Whitehorse collided over the weekend and the latter took the brunt of it. In what could be packaged as a 24-game series between the two capitals, the Yellowknife Wolfpack scooped up the most wins.

Rep hockey teams from Yellowknife and Whitehorse collided over the weekend and the latter took the brunt of it.

In what could be packaged as a 24-game series between the two capitals, the Yellowknife Wolfpack scooped up the most wins in the second annual Air North Hockey Challenge in Whitehorse and Yellowknife.

Of the 24 games – 12 in Yellowknife and 12 in Whitehorse – the Wolfpack won 13 to Whitehorse’s eight, and three ended in ties. The Wolfpack also topped the Whitehorse Mustangs nine wins to eight in the first Air North Challenge in March.

“It’s working out perfectly on all fronts,” said Carl Burgess, president of the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association. “It’s either a close match or a close enough match. All teams are coming away knowing what they have to work on. A four-game series … it’s a real challenge to be consistent.

“The added benefit, that’s just as important as anything else, is the teams billet and hang out with each other for three days. They are having lots of fun and it’s actually improving the hockey because they’re not anonymous. They’re playing harder against each other, but it’s an obvious friendship on the ice.”

Of the five Whitehorse Mustangs teams that took the challenge, the KBL Environmental Midget Mustangs fared the best at 3-1-0.

Playing at home in Whitehorse, the midgets won 7-5 Friday and 7-4 Saturday morning. They then dropped Saturday’s evening game 7-5 before a 4-2 come-from-behind win Sunday morning.

“As a team, we haven’t had a lot of time together; we haven’t had a lot of time to practice,” said Midget Mustangs head coach Martin Lawrie. “We’ve had a handful of games in the rec league.

“So I’m really happy. I’m happy the older guys have accepted the younger guys on the team. That could have been an issue, but they’ve been great.”

The Whitehorse midgets brought up four players – Dylan Cozens, Bryce Anderson, Joe Stokes and Niall Lawrie – from the Bantam Mustangs and their jersey numbers show up a lot in the score sheets.

Cozens finished the series with six goals and four assists, Anderson with three goals and six assists, Stokes with seven assists.

Tied 2-2 on Sunday, Whitehorse’s Jarrett Peterson scored the game-winner with eight minutes left, before Cozen pocketed his second of the game in the final minute.

“We played pretty great. It was great competition but we played like a team and got the wins,” said Mustangs centre Bodie Elias, who had two goals in Game 2. “This last game, we were down (1-0) and won it in the third period. Lots of hard work. Lots of forechecking, battling in the corners got the job done.”

Three Whitehorse teams finished the weekend with balanced records. The Female Mustangs went 1-1-2 in Whitehorse, while the Bantam Mustangs and Whitehorse’s Novice Selects – a one-time team put together from the best players from the novice house league – went 2-2-0 in Yellowknife.

“They were close, exciting games for the kids. They battled hard,” said Selects coach Justin Halowaty. “A number of our kids scored and they all played really, really well … We had contributions from all over.”

“We were extremely proud of how this group of novice kids came together as a team, they far exceeded any expectations we had, and now as a team we are all excited to continue on this year,” he added.

The Novice Selects, who went to Yellowknife with just three practices under their belts, won 4-2 and 6-5 before losing 7-4 and 6-5 against the Wolfpack’s rep novice team.

“Saturday afternoon (the Wolfpack) definitely came out way stronger than they had the first two games,” said Halowaty. “They took it to our kids, who looked a little tired in the third game. But (Sunday’s) game could have gone either way; it was back and forth.

“Their goalie was outstanding – our (goalie Nigel Charlie) played incredibly too … We had 42 shots in the first game.”

The Female Mustangs had arguably the closest and more dramatic weekend with ties bookending the series.

The Mustangs tied 2-2 Friday, lost 5-2 Saturday morning, won 1-0 in the evening, and tied 1-1 Sunday.

“The team is looking good. We started off a little slow in (Sunday’s) game; we only got two shots on net to their 13 in the first period,” said Female Mustangs head coach Louis Bouchard. “Then we came back and tied it up with shots in the second. So I’m really proud of how they were coming back. They never gave up.

“Our goalie (Abbie Turner) did a great job keeping us in the game in the first period – the first half of the game – and then the girls picked it up and put some pressure on them and get the goal.”

The Mustangs pulled off Friday’s tie after pulling their goalie and forward Sierra Oakley scoring in the final minute.

Oakley also scored her team’s one goal Saturday night – shorthanded – helping Turner post her first-ever shutout between the pipes.

“All three goalies played awesome,” said Bouchard. “Abbie was like a wall in yesterday’s game. She stopped 24 shots for her first shutout ever.”

Oakley, a six-year veteran of the team, was double-shifting all four games, playing wing on the first line and centre on the fourth.

“The team is doing really good,” said Oakley, 17. “We’re starting to mesh more as a team and the goalies are doing phenomenal, and we’re starting to get excited about our upcoming tournament (at the Hayley Wickenheiser Hockey Festival in November.)

“All the girls have been trying their hardest and working as a team. Everyone had their moments, everyone stood out.”

The Bantam Mustangs had a good Saturday in Yellowknife. They lost 4-1 Friday, won 4-1 and 5-2 Saturday, and then took a 4-2 loss on Sunday.

“Mackenzie Benn-Wipp led the scoring for us – and Johnny Elias, Dylan Kindervater,” said Burgess, who is also the Bantam Mustangs coach. “Oscar Burgess had the most assists for the match-up.”

The Bantam Mustangs won the Seafair International Ice Breaker, a Tier 2 tournament, in Richmond, B.C., two weeks ago.

“We brought a slightly different group to Yellowknife, which challenged the whole team to assume new roles, roles of leadership and different hockey roles,” said Carl. “We’re realizing we have some fantastic depth in this crew and we’re isolating things we need to work on. And that’s exactly where we want to be at this time of year.”

Whitehorse bantam goalie Ethan Vanderklay missed the Richmond tourney, but made up for it playing all four games in Yellowknife.

“He was huge in net for us,” said Carl. “When the team wasn’t on the ball, he certainly was. He helped keep them in it for sure, and that’s a lot of work for a goalie.”

The peewee and atom Mustangs had a rough go of it against their Wolfpack counterparts. The peewees went 0-3-1 in Whitehorse and the atoms 0-4-0 in Yellowknife.

The Peewee Mustangs opened with a 5-5 tie before three straight losses.

“In each game we played this weekend we were at some point winning and then we just kind of fell off. Every game we had a chance to take it and I’m really proud of them for that,” said Peewee Mustangs coach Elgin Schwantz.

The Mustangs were en route to a second tie Sunday morning. They had the pressure on for most of the third period, but a goal by the Wolfpack with 53 seconds left set the score at 2-1.

“It was one of those situations where it could have gone either way and it just didn’t go our way,” said Schwantz.

“The kids in this tournament really progressed … Each game I could see them getting better and better.”

Two players – both with good hockey names – did a lot of the heavy lifting over the weekend for the Mustangs. Kyron Crosby had five goals and two assists and teammate Eric Potvin had two goals and one assist.

Contact Tom Patrick at