The Yellowknife peewee Wolfpack take road trips to another level.
They are willing to board planes to face quality teams and travelled nearly 2,300 kilometres via WestJet to play in the Penticton Minor Hockey Association Peewee Tier 2 tournament over the weekend.
“It’s a great opportunity for us. Living far away, we don’t get the opportunity to play as many teams as we would like or the calibre of play we would like to find,” said Wolfpack coach Randy Caines, whose team finished 11th in the 12-team tournament after defeating the Salmon Arm Silvertips 5-3. “It’s always difficult to find the right match in tournaments.”
The Wolfpack trailed the Silvertips 3-0 late in the second period on Nov. 22 when they began chipping away. Part of what helped the Wolfpack make the comeback was what their coaches told them during a timeout. The players were told to enjoy the moment of playing in an arena such as Memorial where Yellowknife product Vic Mercredi played as a member of the Penticton Broncos for two seasons, the last in which he put up 50 goal and 106 points. Mercredi played two games in the NHL for the Atlanta Flames. Caines said the coaches are proud when the players perform to their capabilities and it was doing that which also contributed to the comeback.
“Sometimes you try and carry it down the ice and you try and dilly-dally through some players. That was not working for us at all,” he said. “What was working was good old fashion hockey, dumped it in, applied the pressure and good things happen when you go to the net.”
The Wolfpack coach liked that his team stayed focused and dug down.
“They never gave up. Individual players got the goals. It was the team that worked together to win small battles and those small battles added up,” he said.
Liam Mathieson, Wolfpack captain, said they enjoyed playing in Penticton. He also felt they played well in their final game.
“It felt good not losing all of our games,” he said.
Walking down the tunnel to their dressing room, one Wolfpack player lifted his arms in the air and cheered the fact they didn’t finish last.
“For these kids, playing hockey is a treat. Standings is not as important,” added Caines when told about that. “We’re trying to find the competitive games. Sometimes it’s lopsided. We don’t have the luxury of playing every single weekend against same-calibre teams. You come down, take a gamble and hope you have a few good games. This certainly did make our weekend. It was the right tournament to come to to expose our players to high-calibre play. Also fortunate to be in a game that was really close.”
The Wolfpack got up at 3 a.m. on Nov. 20 to catch a connecting flight to Calgary before arriving in Kelowna. Their goalie was nearly late arriving as he missed the first flight and managed to catch a second flight at 1 p.m. The Wolfpack lost to the North Shore Winter Club 8-3. That was followed up by a 12-0 loss to Kelowna and a 9-3 loss to Coquitlam.
“The kids themselves don’t spend a whole lot of time reflecting on any losses,” he said. “They just like being together, they like playing hard and definitely the win is memorable.”
It was Caines’ idea to come to Penticton and he approached team manager April Desjarlais to see if it would work.
Along with playing in Penticton, the Wolfpack have played in Fort St. John, Whitehorse, Grand Prairie, Alta., and will go to Richmond. To make these trips happen, fundraising initiatives are organized and parents foot the bill for their children’s travel. The Wolfpack took advantage of seat sales of $400 return to come. Desjarlais estimated this season the team would spend $100,000 to play in tournaments.
When asked about what they thought of Penticton, Desjarlais said she loves it here. Her family has vacationed in Penticton and several of the players in the association have come to the South Okanagan and taken part in Okanagan Hockey Schools.
“Everyone is in love with this place. The association has been super helpful,” said Desjarlais.