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Goalkeepers handcuff the shooters at Police Cup finals on Sunday
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A year ago this time, Braya Kelly was still getting her feet under her as the goaltender for the Cedar Park Atom Red Wings, tackling the challenge as what amounted to a favour to a friend (Jessie) - despite having no previous experience in hockey.

On Sunday afternoon, the chatty 12 year-old was locked in a puckstoppers’ duel with Ryan Berardi at the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex as her Peewee Red Wings battled tooth and nail with Berardi and the Lo-Ellen Park Lightning in one of four championship games contested on the final day of the 2024 SPHL (Sudbury Playground Hockey League) Police Cup.

“When the puck would come at me to start, I would always get really scared,” recalled Kelly, moments after helping to lead her team to a 2-1 win. “I had to get used to that. And the equipment was very difficult because I got really hot in it.”

A year later, there was clearly no fear in her approach – though Kelly was still red hot, turning aside a number of key chances throughout the game. Still, it was following a Kelly breakaway save in the opening period on Lo-Ellen forward Miguel Acuna that Jakob Tremblay capitalized, tucking home the rebound to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead.

A pair of Cedar Park power plays in period two made things interesting, though a very aggressive penalty kill led by the likes of Tremblay and Carter Crichton allowed Lo-Ellen to hold their opponents mostly at bay – although a Ben Walsh deflection of a point drive did drift perilously close to the far post.

And so the scoreboard read 1-0, with but 12 minutes to play.

“I wasn’t super confident, but I thought somebody would score because we usually score each game,” said Kelly. “I was trying to stay positive.”

And so the bubble would burst.

Stationed off to the side of the net, Ben Walsh found just enough room on the short side to squeeze a puck through, deadlocking the contest at 1-1 with less than five minutes remaining.

After going winless in round robin play, the Red Wings appeared destined to be heading to another overtime classic. “We were in overtime (last night) and a teammate of mine, Bentley (Norman), he skated from one side to the other and shot a backhand into the corner,” Kelly explained of her memories from a dramatic 4-3 semi-final win over the McFarlane Lakers on Saturday evening.

This time around, the fourth period would prove unnecessary.

With 1:47 left before OT, a Ben Walsh shot trickled over to the far side of the net where Caiden Homeniuk was Johnny-on-the-spot, netting the game-winning tally, much to the delight on the young netminder who has come an awfully long way in 12 short months.

“Near the end of last season, I got more comfortable because my teammates would practice breakaways on me,” said Kelly. “When they take a shot, I just go at it. I just try my best. I took lots of gymnastics and it helps me get into positions that other goalies can’t. And last year, my team was kind of quiet – but this year, they’re really loud.”

“There’s lot of yelling, lots of celebrations, with everyone having fun.”

Above all else, that last theme is taken to heart by all those who truly capture the spirit of the SPHL – now seventy years strong. “We moved from another organization several years ago and I just fell in love with it,” said SPHL president Ernie Boeswald, now with more than a decade of involvement, the past three at the helm of the group.

“The atmosphere and the people are amazing. I just had to get involved.”

While the remaining finals might not have been quite as dramatic as the Peewee affair, each one of the four was still very much up for grabs in the third period on a day which featured a definite Cedar Park vs Lo-Ellen flavour to it.

Deacon Martin netted a pair of second period goals, giving the Novice Red Wings a 2-0 lead heading into the final frame. Teammate Sam O’Brien extended the advantage to three goals midway through the third before Oliver Duquette broke the goose-egg for the Lightning as Cedar Park claimed another banner, this one thanks to a 3-1 triumph.

The Red Wings continued to roll in the Atom affair as a two-goal performance from Andrew Shewchuk helped to propel Cedar Park to a 5-2 victory over the Algonquin Thunder. Preston Lepine, Xander Pharand and Logan Buckland also hit the mark for the winners while Tav Irving and Hanning Ye countered for Algonquin.

Leave it to the Lo-Ellen Lightning Bantams to derail the Cedar Park sweep, surprising the Red Wings 4-1 in the final. Brogan Hurley opened the scoring with the only tally of period number one but it was strikes from Macarthur Young and Spencer Curich 36 seconds apart in the second that provided the key breathing room.

A goal from Jacob Costello later in the frame bumped the board to 4-0 before Sebastien Moncion got one back for the Red Wings.

In the end, the most important numbers of all might have been: 25 and 6000.

Utilizing the weekend tournament as a fundraiser for the Sudbury Food Bank, once again, the SPHL managed to fill 25 large bins of donated food – along with another $6000 in cash donations as the league displayed ample proof that playground hockey is really about so much more than just hockey.