On Hockey Day in Canada, the Jasper U11 Bears celebrated Canada’s national winter sport by going on their longest road trip of the year, to the Land of Whispering Hills (according to the road sign).
Sharing the same river as our little mountain town, Athabasca, Alberta is home to historic brick buildings, a stellar multiplex featuring a (functional) aquatic centre, and this past weekend, a tournament hosted by Jasper’s divisional arch-rival, the Athabasca Hawks.
The weekend featured three round-robin games followed by a playoff game. In the first contest of the tournament for the Bears, Jasper took on the host Athabasca Hawks. Similar to the Jasper U15 Bearcats’ rivals, the Westlock Warriors, The Hawks lead the league in penalties, having logged four times as many PIMs as the Bears. Two previous meetings delivered the Bears a loss and a tie so they were keen to put this one in the W column.
Despite having fresh-out-of-the-car legs, the Bears came out storming, logging the first seven shots. Lorenzo Zaniol opened the scoring for the Bears. Silky smooth defender Alexis Lahaie has clearly been working on his shot accuracy; he streaked down the left side with classic Lahaie panache and roofed the puck to extend the lead. The Bears kept working hard as the Hawks began to find their game. They began to play tougher and were living up to their reputation; a brutal boarding on Zaniol began the Hawks’ parade to the box.
But the Bears wouldn’t be pushed around. Zephy Korogonas took a great shot from the left circle which was poked across the line by Hudson Murray. They kept piling up the goals for a convincing 8-3 win.
Between games, some Bears chose to partake in the skills competition (Zaniol took home the hardest shot trophy with a 73 km/hr rocket) while some took advantage of the waterslide, lazy river, and climbing wall at the pool.
For game two, the Bears had the late-night contest against the Provost Blades—who were keen to prove their mettle after a harsh defeat earlier in the day. Jack Cooper was patrolling the crease for this one and made plenty of spectacular kick saves to keep the game deadlocked. After a slow start to the game and many penalties on both sides, Juniper Habib made a sneaky pass to Fin McGrath, whose bad-angle shot trickled past the goalie. Murray added another, and then Lahaie broke up a 3-on-0 and went coast-to-coast, bar down, top cheddar to make the score 3-0, which was where it stayed.
Sunday morning featured the Bears taking on the Bonnyville Pontiacs. The Bears were not on their game in the first frame; multiple times they had trouble clearing their zone and before everyone settled down the Pontiacs had jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Paja Given, who has developed an affinity for the spin-o-rama, had his skates flying in this one, while Habib dominated in the faceoff dot (not that anyone was tracking percentages). The Bears climbed back into the game, but the Bonnyville goalie’s hot glove hand turned them away. Coaches Steve Lahaie and Mike Kliewer tried all the motivational tactics in the book, but the Pontiacs ended up taking the game 4-2.
Following the game was the shootout competition. Each team had a goalie who took turns facing the skaters. Skaters who scored moved on to the next round until there was one player left standing. Shooters dropped off one by one as the goalies put on a show. The final round came down to Juniper Habib versus a Bonnyville player; after Provost’s goalie stopped the Bonnyville shooter, it was up to Habib—a do-or-die scenario. In dramatic fashion, she snuck it just under the goalie’s glove hand to win the trophy. The Bears continued racking up the hardware; Cooper took home the goalie trophy for having the shootout’s best save percentage of the four keepers.
With a three-way tie atop the round robin standings, there was much intrigue as to who would make the gold medal game. The Bears felt they deserved to be there but the tiebreak rules were unclear to say the least; despite the best efforts of manager Rosie Zaniol, the Bears had to accept being relegated to playing Provost for the bronze.
Murray opened the scoring by picking the top corner, and then tallied again shorthanded. Too bad the PWHL’s jailbreak rule isn’t in effect in this league. Dion Valencia, returning to the crease for this game, was very solid in net. Murray continued to rack up the goals, notching a total of five tallies. Winger Hank Kliewer’s gritty two-way play helped keep the Blades off the board. The game also featured a couple of incredible passes; star defender Kenny Olson ripped a tape-to-tape breakout pass to Murray, while Given fed McGrath alone in the slot to ice the victory and score the final goal of the tournament, giving the Bears a bronze with a 6-0 win.
Despite the disappointment of not getting to play for the Stanley Candy Cup (a bunch of tin cans glued together with candy taped to the outside), the Bears left for home in great spirits. They probably got some candy on the way home anyway.
Lucas Habib // firstname.lastname@example.org