Heartbreak loss for Canadians
After erasing a two-goal deficit in the third period to force overtime, it looked as if the Fort Frances Canadians PeeWee ‘AA’ team had the momentum in the final of their home tournament Sunday afternoon at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Instead, it was the Sioux Lookout Flyers who came away with the gold medal after Quintin Loon-Stewardson slid the puck past Canadians’ goalie Matthew Booth to give his team a 5-4 victory.
“We’ve been battling some injuries for the last two or three weeks, so we really haven’t been able to work on anything with everybody available.
“Everything came together for us and the guys gutted it out and gave everything they had, so I’m extremely proud of them,” he added.
The overtime setback for the Canadians, meanwhile, was a case of déja vu after the squad lost 2-1 in overtime to the Westfort Maroons in a tournament final in Thunder Bay last month.
“Of our five tournaments that we have been to this year, we’ve been to four finals and lost two of them in overtime,” noted head coach Brent Tookenay.
“I told the guys afterwards that they should keep their heads up high and feel good about how they played as they deserved better than what the final outcome was.
“But that’s the way the hockey gods work sometimes,” he reasoned.
The host Canadians advanced to the final of the six-team tournament after finishing in first place thanks to a 3-0-1 record in round-robin play.
“The guys were great in those four games,” Tookenay noted.
“In our last game against Kenora [on Saturday evening], I don’t think we were as sharp as we normally are as we already knew that we were going to the final,” he admitted.
“But we were dominant for the most part in most of those games.”
The Flyers and Canadians went back and forth on offence in the first period of Sunday’s final.
James Gushulak and Kendyn Faragher both scored for the hosts while Ben Forbes and Cortez Favot replied for Sioux Lookout to make it 2-2 after 15 minutes.
The Canadians came out firing in the second as they tried to break the tie. But their shots either were being blocked by numerous members of the Flyers or turned aside by goalie Seth McKay.
“I don’t like to give up too much but we definitely had a defensive strategy going into the game,” Schulz explained.
“We have seen Fort Frances a lot this year so we were familiar with them, and they are a strong and well-balanced team.
“We knew what we had to do and the guys executed everything to a ‘T,’” he added.
With the defensive side of things firing on all cylinders, the Flyers finally got things going on offence late in the period as Loon-Stewardson and Forbes both hit the twine to give the visitors a 4-2 lead heading into the third.
“During the intermission, we just told the boys to stick with it,” Tookenay recalled.
“They were doing a lot of good things except finishing the play off, and they just needed to be more hungry around the net in order to do that,” he reasoned.
The Canadians drew within a goal early in the third when Ethan Carlson-Jourdain beat McKay on a penalty shot, which was awarded after a Sioux Lookout player covered the puck with his hand in the crease during a goalmouth scramble.
“That was a key point in the game,” Tookenay said.
“Young Ethan was able to deliver on that play, and that gave the guys a little bit of a light and they were able to keep things going.”
After a number of close chances, the Canadians tied the score with 1:42 to go when Cooper Witherspoon pounced on a loose puck in the slot and snapped a shot past a diving McKay.
“We have a young line of first-year players [Witherspoon, Carlson-Jourdain, and Nick Hahkala] that were huge difference-makers in that third period,” Tookenay lauded.
“It took our team a little bit longer than I would have liked to tie it back up after the penalty shot, but those three guys really stepped up to the plate and they gave our team a lot of confidence,” he noted.
While the Canadians’ bench—and the home crowd—were in hysterics over what had just happened, the Flyers sat in stunned silence after seeing their lead slip away as the contest headed into a five-minute overtime.
“During the little break that we had, I told the guys to just relax and that we were going to get another goal,” Schulz recalled.
“You could see that some of the guys were a little bit down, and they felt that they may have made a mistake to let Fort Frances get back in it, but I just told them to forget about it.”
That message may have been the difference in the extra frame as Loon-Stewardson jammed away at a puck in front of the net before it trickled past Booth at the 3:04 mark to give the Flyers the dramatic win.
“He’s huge to our team, especially as a leader,” Schulz said of Loon-Stewardson.
“The guys in the room really look up to him, and he gets things done when they have to get done,” he noted.
Two other games took place Sunday to determine the rest of the tournament’s standings.
A goal and two assists by Jared Neniska allowed the Kenora Thistles to finish in third place with a 6-4 victory over the International Falls PeeWee ‘A’ Broncos.
The Dryden Paper Kings, meanwhile, placed fifth following a 8-0 romp of the Thunder Bay Elks.
Jacob Lugli led Dryden with a goal and two assists.