Alex Walchuk was one of the stars for the Yukon North Stars, winning the goalie trophy in the breakaway challenge. (Sarah Lewis/Submitted)

Yukon hockey teams crowd the podium at Hockey on the Hill

‘They were just so happy that they made it to go play at the Canadian Tire Centre’

The extreme cold wasn’t the only thing making waves in Ottawa last week as the two Yukon representatives in the Bell Capital Cup played their way to podium finishes.

The PNW Group boys peewee team finished second in the Canada 150 boys division while the Yukon North Stars played their way to third place in the girls division.

PNW cruised through the round robin portion of the tournament with shutout wins over Quebec and Ottawa East and a 4-1 victory against Northern Ontario.

A 7-3 win against Ottawa in the quarterfinal game set up a rematch with Northern Ontario in the semifinal — a game PNW won 3-0, securing their spot in the final game on New Years Eve against Manitoba for the title at the Canadian Tire Centre, home of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.

Against a side that scored 39 goals without conceding any against, it was always going to be an uphill battle. Luckily for PNW, they were playing with house money.

“We really had zero expectations,” said head coach Mike Nemeth. “ Looking back at the tournament stats, their goalie hadn’t let a goal in all tournament and they had obliterated teams. To only lose 6-0, there is really no shame in it.”

A strong Manitoba side from Red River and a team case of the flu — one player had to miss the final game due to illness — were too much for the team to overcome, but spirits stayed high.

“I think the kids were all perfectly happy with silver, which is usually a pretty tough medal to win,” said Nemeth. “They were just so happy that they made it to go play at the Canadian Tire Centre.”

The Yukon North Stars, a girls side formed specifically for this tournament, opened their tournament with back-to-back wins over Quebec and Saskatchewan before dropping their last round robin game against Alberta.

A 5-2 win over Nova Scotia in the quarterfinals set up another game against Alberta, with the North Stars coming out on the losing end of a 4-1 score in the semifinal.

North Stars head coach Pat Tobler said it was a team effort, and some hot goaltending, that spurred their run into the elimination portion of the bracket.

“The whole team played really well,” said Tobler.

Goaltender Alix Walchuk played all five games for the team, and Tobler said she was a difference maker.

“She is definitely a great goalie. She really kept us in all the games and she played really well,” said Tobler.

Walchuk also won the goalie trophy during the breakaway challenge portion of the skills competition.

Offensively, the top scorers for the North Stars were Taylor Bierlmeier and Arnica Bulmer with six goals and two assists each, good for a 1.6 points-per-game clip.

For PNW, Ken Stalder stole the show with 15 goals and a helper, good for 16 points and the top spot on the division’s scoring table.

Nemeth described Stalder as a “rock.”

“He coaches the other players, he never gets upset, he’s just an exceptional player,” said Nemeth.

Both teams had their outdoor games on the Canada 150 rink in front of Parliament Hill cancelled, but did get a chance to skate on the ice later in the tournament.

“We weren’t too disappointed to be honest. The weather was pretty cold plus the wind was blowing,” said Tobler. “Even though they didn’t get to play on it, they still got to skate and get their photos taken.”

PNW was hesitant to spend too much time on the outdoor rink with competitive games still to be played, but took a moment to enjoy the opportunity.

“We went out and enjoyed it a little, took in the experience and definitely got a lot of photos,” said Nemeth.

Although not the ultimate winners on the scoreboard, both teams returned to Whitehorse with accomplishments to be proud of and memories to last a lifetime.

“These kids are pretty proud of themselves and they deserve to be,” said Nemeth.

Tobler agreed.

“Everyone played really hard and everyone contributed. It was a great team effort.”

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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