Jasper’s U11 Bears opened the season amid the chaos of missing dressing rooms, cancelled games due to ammonia leaks, and playing home games out of Hinton.
Missing their home turf, the Bears were set to wrap up their tiering games on Heritage Classic weekend. Tiering games, played at the start of the season, are a series of matches that help the league figure out which divisions to place teams in for maximum competitiveness. These games have a degree of randomness not seen in regular league play—one game might end up as a huge blowout for a team, the next game they play might be tilted heavily the opposite way.
Jasper’s closing games were a pair of neutral-site games, which mercifully saved the team having to drive all the way from Jasper to Wabasca and Athabasca for a couple of preseason games.
The Bears’ first opponents were the Wabasca Eagles, hosted by Edson. Jasper power forward, Hudson Murray, blew the game open in the early going by tallying a natural hat trick in the first period. Murray wasn’t the only player skating well; this game was the most dynamic we’ve seen from the Bears so far this year. Hockey plays abounded, including tape-to-tape passes, strategic forechecking, and even the occasional one-timer.
Recently-arrived Kiwi, Noah Jober, skipped watching the All Blacks in the World Rugby Cup final in order to help hold down the blueline for the Bears. He’s Canadian already. Alexis Lahaie went five-hole on a breakaway, showing maturity and patience by waiting for the goalie to commit before picking his spot.
The hard-working line of Juniper Habib, Zephy Korogonas, and Paja Given finally started clicking; all of their heavy work down low started paying off and they were consistently hitting the mesh in the second period. The stalwart defensive pairings of Jack Cooper with Kenny Olson, and Jober with Lahaie, kept goalie Dion Valencia from having to make too many of his trademark Hasek-like saves. Meanwhile, Murray kept racking up goals and the Bears ended with their largest win of the preseason.
The team was riding high into their Sunday game in Whitecourt versus the Athabasca Hawks. Playing in the “big” arena in Whitecourt—home of the AJHL’s Wolverines—probably felt similar to playing an outdoor game at Commonwealth Stadium in front of 55,000 fans—albeit a bit warmer.
As is typical for a Sunday morning road game, the Bears struggled to find their legs and appeared to be missing some of the previous day’s pep. In an inverse of their previous matchup, Jasper’s opponents were piling on the goals. The Bears nearly ended the first period on a high note as, with time winding down, Lahaie split the Hawks’ defenders, but his shot hit the post.
In the second period, two-way forwards Fin McGrath and Milo Michaud helped limit the damage with multiple steals and poke checks. Murray then finally got the Bears on the board in the third period after a great individual effort from Lahaie. Murray picked up the rebound and popped it into the gaping net while doing his best Bobby Orr impression. Shortly after, Lorenzo Zaniol retrieved the puck and fed Murray in the slot, who was able to out-wait Athabasca’s keeper, popping the water bottle with a top-shelf marker. Meanwhile, Valencia stood on his head to not allow any goals in the third period.
Although the Bears lost 9-2, there were encouraging signs with their team play and they held onto the moral victory of “winning” the third period, especially after it became known the Hawks were bidding for a shut-out. As the Jasper kids scrambled out of the dressing room, a few families headed to Whitecourt’s aquatic centre, while the rest loaded up on shawarma and smoothies and hit the road back to Jasper.
Lucas Habib // firstname.lastname@example.org