Western girls claim gold without a practice
For the hundreds of young athletes who gather for the provincial Games every two years, making friends and getting to know their sporting peers from others regions is a big part of the overall experience.
Members of the Western girls’ gold medal-winning hockey show off the hardware they collected after defeating Central 2-0 Tuesday the Clarenville Events Centre. The team was undefeated en route to the title. — Photo by Kenn Oliver/The Telegram
For the gold medal-winning Western region girls’ hockey team, this week’s Games were all about getting to know each other.
“After our first game, we knew we had chemistry,” says St. Anthony’s Heather Richards, 16, who led her team with a goal and a helper in a 2-0 championship game win Tuesday over Central, the favourites, to claim gold. “It’s a great bunch of girls, and by the last game we played like we’ve been playing together forever.”
But the reality is the girls really only came together as team for the first time since tryouts earlier this winter in Sunday’s tournament opener at the 2014 Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games in Clarenville, an 11-1 win over a strong Eastern team.
With players coming from Corner Brook, Deer Lake, Stephenville, Kippens, and tiny Anchor Point on the Northern Peninsula, finding time for even one team practice, a luxury much of their competition enjoyed heading into the Games, was impossible.
“It was really challenging because you don’t know how the other people play. You don’t know what to do with lines,” says Stephenville’s Olivia Henley who added reason to celebrate on Tuesday as she turned 15. “So to be able to come together and not have practised and win this tournament… it’s every girls’ dream.”
Coach Conrad Bromley says their time spent coming together off the ice was a big factor in the team’s success.
“They’re moving around together, going to the gym, going to eat, watching games. With the whole experience of being in the Village and having our own room, they really started to gel quickly.”
After drubbing Eastern, Western collected a hard-fought 5-4 win against Labrador, got past a strong St. John’s/North team 4-3, and took advantage of a late 5-on-3 powerplay to break a tie and defeat Avalon 3-2 to seal a berth in the medal game.
“A lot of our scores didn’t show it, but we really outplayed some of the teams,” Bromley says. “We had some trouble manufacturing goals, but in the end I think we worked hard enough to offset that.”
The speedy Richards, who was one of two Newfoundland and Labrador girls on Team Atlantic at the 2013 National Women’s Under-18 Championship, was consistently the team’s offensive leader throughout the tournament. (Goose Bay’s Amy Curlew also travelled the Calgary tournament this past November.)
“I’ve never played with Heather before, so to be able to come up and play with her was so overwhelming,” says Henley. “I was afraid, but she’s such a good teammate and great person.”
But on Tuesday, it wasn’t offence that earned the team gold, but a relentless forecheck coupled with smart defensive play that left goaltender Samantha Hann with just 11 saves to make for the shutout. Tana Genge had the other Western goal.
“We had game plans from our awesome coach and we executed them how we wanted,” Richards insists. “We gave them lots of pressure and no time, we forced the puck whenever we could and played with our hearts.
“It paid off.”
The win was something of an upset when you consider the Central team is comprised largely of players from the reigning provincial midget girls AAA champion Central IcePak squad, a team headed to the Atlantics championships next month for the third straight year.
Even Central coach Dave Edison, also the IcePak bench boss, admitted his team was “outworked” by a “hungrier” Western team that earned their gold medals.
“Our girls are hard workers and smart hockey players and they understand sometimes you have to suck it up and give it to the other guys.
“They’ve had quite a bit of success, so to take second place and the silver medal, it’s something for them to learn from.”
One of those silver medals will be brought back to team member Kristie MacDonald from Springdale, who was on the bus on her way to Clarenville when she received news of her grandmother’s passing.
Edison says he felt bad for her loss and the fact she was forced to miss this once in a lifetime experience.
“It was a downer for the team coming in and I tried to use it as a motivator to bring back a gold medal for her.
“We dedicated our effort to her and we sorely missed her this week.”