Hammered by the loss of a handful of key players, the Yukon Selects men’s team faced a tough six days at the Nationals in Surrey, BC, last week.
“If our top roster would have been able to play, top four wouldn’t have been out of reach,” said coach Joe Zuccarini on Thursday.
As it is, the Selects dropped to ninth overall from last year’s eighth-place finish.
“It was pretty disappointing,” said midfielder Peter Mather. “We had two decent games, and three bad ones.
“We did as well as we possibly could have; the overall calibre of play was better than last year. It took us a couple of games to get into the groove of things.”
The squad dropped three straight games in its pool, losing 4-1 to Nova Scotia, 6-0 to Alberta (which finished second overall), and a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to PEI.
“That was a tough loss — we played really well,” said midfielder Peter Mather.
The team started off on the wrong foot more than once during the tournament, he added.
“They scored on us in the first minute, and we tried to play catch up … sometimes the ball just doesn’t want to go in the net,” said Zuccarini.
After the disappointing start, the Selects bounced back in the semi-final to determine 9th to 12th place finishes.
“We had a great game against Saskatchewan; we played really, really well the whole game, we deserved to win it,” said Zuccarini.
The Selects beat Saskatchewan 3-1.
“That was probably our biggest win ever,” said Mather. “Everyone played well … it was a good feeling to beat them.”
In the final game, against experienced Manitoba, the Selects lost 6-0.
“Our inexperience showed,” said Zuccarini.
And, coming from the Yukon, the Selects had to work harder to get respect on the field, even from referees.
“That’s something you have to battle all the time out there; it’s a sad thing, but that’s how it is.”
The coach was impressed by Charlie Hoeller, at 51, playing in goal, and Matteo Guevara, playing up front.
“Those guys were playing as good as anyone can play.”
Mather added that young players, like Guevara and his brother Juan, really improved over the five days.
“They grew a lot during the tournament; their first game was not good, by the fifth, they were really solid.”
“I’m really proud of all these guys,” said Zuccarini. “The young players and replacement players that came with us, they gave it their all and, in the end, ninth place overall is not a bad thing.”
The women’s Selects, in its first national appearance, faced a similar situation.
“We went down there with very big aspirations,” said player Sarah Hanson, with a laugh. “There were games where the score was lopsided, but that wasn’t indicative of our play.”
After losing to PEI in the opener, and then Nova Scotia, the women’s Selects best game came against Newfoundland, which ended in a draw after Wheaton Symington tied it with two minutes left.
The next game, against New Brunswick, was a heartbreaking 1-0 loss.
“We were in that one the whole game,” said Hanson. “It was really disappointing.”
In its final to determine placing, the Selects faced Newfoundland again, but lost 4-1. After scoring the first goal, the team scored twice on its own net.
“If we learned one thing, it’s that you can’t relax for a second at that level,” said Hanson. “You have to play 100 per cent every minute on field.”
Susan Whitty played well, said both Hanson and Mather.
“She was really an anchor; she played every minute of every game, which is exceptional.”
Next year’s Nationals are in Halifax. The team would like to attend, but it’s expensive.
“We’re going to have to get creative with fundraising,” said Hanson.