It was arguably the biggest event of last week’s Arctic Winter Games and at the end the Yukon athletes were wearing gold ulus.
In a come-from-behind effort, the Yukon’s midget hockey team downed N.W.T. 2-1 to win gold in front of a sold-out crowd at Takhini Arena on Saturday.
“I think we got better as the tournament went on and today’s game, obviously, could have gone either way,” said Yukon head coach Jay Glass. “We had lots of chances, they had lots of chances. I really liked our discipline and our grittiness and our goaltending.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the guys. They gave it everything they had today and luckily we came out on top. It was a real tough hockey game.”
“It was a heartbreaker,” said N.W.T. head coach Brad Anstey. “Our boys started this process back in December, as I’m sure Yukon did, and to come so far to play against a strong, strong Yukon team – hats off to them.
“They fought hard. They were down 1-0 … and just kept fighting and digging. We knew they wouldn’t give up. After the first period we said, ‘Boys, this is far from over.’”
The Yukon’s two goals came on power plays. Applying serious pressure on the N.W.T. defence with a little over 13 minutes left in regulation, the Yukon put three consecutive shots on net. The second rebound in the flurry of shots went to Yukon forward Tyrell Hope, who lifted the puck over the strewn N.W.T. goalie for the game-winner. It was assisted by Tyson Glass.
The Yukon’s tying goal came in the second period. Captain Mike Hare threaded the needle through traffic in front of the N.W.T. net with a laser beam-wrist shot from the slot.
“Everyone is just really excited right now,” said Hare. “No one can really believe what happened. It’s a great experience, especially in front of the hometown crowd. Everyone was just really pumped up for it and the home crowd definitely got us more excited and helped us to get more amped up for the game.”
N.W.T.‘s goal came late in the first period with 1:06 to play. Keeping his team calm during the first intermission was key, said coach Glass.
“We said, ‘Guys, you have to settle it down.’ There was still (40) minutes of hockey left … We have to play our game,” he said. “We wanted them to play the game like it was 0-0 no matter what the score was. We wanted to play the same game for 60 minutes and we felt if we could do that then we’d be successful.”
“After their first goal we were definitely a bit scared and got a bit nervous,” said Hare. “But after the first period we got together, knew what we needed to do, rallied together and pulled off the win.”
“You have to erase it from your memory, like it didn’t happen and play like it’s 0-0 at all times – move on and concentrate on that next save,” said Yukon goalie Nigel Sinclair-Eckert.
It was no cakewalk getting to the finals for Team Yukon. The squad narrowly defeated Alaska 2-1 in Thursday’s semifinal. Tied 1-1 late in the game, the Yukon was given a penalty shot, called for Alaska covering the puck in the crease.
Tyson Glass took the shot, sending the puck off one post, off the other and in.
“That semifinal on Thursday was just as difficult, so we feel really fortunate to be here,” said coach Glass after the final.
In addition to getting the game-winner in the semi and assisting the game-winner in the final, Tyson was his team’s top producer with three goals and four assists last week.
Team Yukon opened the tournament with a 4-2 loss to N.W.T. – their only loss of the Games. They finished the round-robin beating Nunavut 6-0 and Alaska 4-1.
But nothing compares to the final.
“This is definitely the biggest game ever (for me),” said Hare. “It’s the most fans we’ve ever had at a hockey game.”
“Biggest game, definitely,” said Sinclair-Eckert. “My best was last year (at the Canada Winter Games) in Halifax, but this was my biggest game. To play in front of the home crowd – there was sold-out seating in here – was amazing.
“We’ve known for years that we have a team that could bring out a win of this calibre and it’s amazing to do it at home.
“It’s 60 minutes of the hardest concentration ever,” he added. “You’re just emotionally drained after but I’m so happy to have won.”
The Yukon last won gold in midget hockey at the 2006 Arctic Games in Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska. The Yukon placed fourth at the 2010 Games and won silver in 2008.
Named the Yukon’s game MVP in the final was forward Brayden Kulych for his indomitable play on the ice.
“Brayden Kulych had a great game, Nigel Sinclair-Eckert had a great game, Mike Hare had a great game,” said coach Glass. “(Kulych) isn’t a super offensive player, but man is he gritty. I thought he really brought a lot of grit to our game and he picked the guys up a lot of times, banging pucks out of our zone, getting pucks deep and just battling.”
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