PRINCE GEORGE, B.C.
Yukon’s male hockey team proved their first win over Northwest Territories was no fluke with a second one to end the Canada Winter Games on Friday.
Yukon outplayed their neighbours to the east en route to a 4-1 win and an 11th-place finish, ahead of N.W.T. in Prince George.
“There are some positives there for sure. Two wins – I think it’s the first time for Yukon in men’s hockey to have two wins at a (Canada) Games,” said Yukon head coach Martin Lawrie.
The Yukon squad opened the Games with a 13-0 loss to P.E.I. on Feb. 22, lost 11-2 to Newfoundland on Feb. 23 and finished the round robin for their pool with an 8-2 win over N.W.T. on Feb. 24.
They then got a rematch against Newfoundland to start the placement round on Thursday, losing 7-3 following a disastrous third period.
After finishing the first period down 1-0, Yukon scored twice in the second to take a 2-1 lead. Newfoundland answered back with two before the end of the second and scored four more in the third.
“We didn’t respond well to that first goal they scored in the third,” said Lawrie. “It was probably a bit of the boys still having nerves, not having a lot of high-level experience, things like that. But they kind of refocused again for the last 10 minutes there in the third.”
Yukon forwards Mack Benn-Wipp and Jonas Leas each had a goal and an assist against Newfoundland. Captain Mathew Cooper also scored and Riley Smoler and Jesse McCuaig got assists. Yukon goalie Ethan Vanderkley stopped 40 of 47 shots on net.
“I think that was a depth issue,” said Lawrie. “Our top players recognize they are able to compete at this level, which is encouraging.
“I think the secret now is to build the depth behind them.”
Yukon avoided last place with Friday’s win over N.W.T. Assistant captain Gavin Lawrie scored twice and Smoler had a goal and an assist. Forward Ryan Troke scored the game-winner. Leas had two assists.
Tynan Hope got his second start of the Games, also having notched a win against N.W.T. earlier in the week. He stopped 28 out of 29 shots on net in the final game.
“Ethan (Vanderkley) got the tough starts, for sure. He was playing well going in so we thought we would use him,” said Martin. “But Tynan has put the time in as well, so we wanted to make sure he got his starts … He’s got a record that’s going to be tough to beat: 2-0 at the Canada Games. It’ll be tough for the next Yukon goalies.”
Leas, who was an assistant captain, was Yukon’s top scorer in the tournament with three goals and four assists. Gavin Lawrie pocketed three goals and an assist and Smoler had two of each.
Benn-Wipp and forward Dylan Cozens finished with two goals and an assist each.
“It’s not a surprise at all,” said Martin of Leas’ performance. “Jonas was one of the leaders – he was given an ‘A’ going into the tournament. Jonas has played for us for years in Whitehorse … We’ve seen him the last couple years at North Shore (Winter Club) and this year at (Okanagan Hockey Academy). So I expected him to be able to contribute at this level.”
Team Ontario took gold with a 3-1 win over Alberta on Sunday in Prince George. Manitoba claimed bronze, beating Quebec 5-3 on Saturday.
Yukon and N.W.T. having been trading the last-place spot the last few Games. Yukon beat N.W.T. in 2007 to avoid last place, but placed 12th behind N.W.T. at the 2011 Games in Halifax.
“I was really proud of the boys, how they competed and the effort,” said Martin. “I really appreciated Rob Warner and Derek Klassen for stepping up and helping with the coaching.
“Tanya Hope and Angie Troke have been huge as far as keeping us going and making sure we’re where we need to be when we need to be there. I think those two have been putting in crazy hours to support the hockey, so that’s really appreciated.”
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