While there was many a compelling battle that was waged at the 25th annual edition of the Snowflake Challenge Girls Hockey Tournament this past weekend, few groupings could equal the overall competitiveness of the peewee houseleague division.
The eighteen games that were contested would see only four decided by three goals or more, with the mix of local entries and representatives from North Bay, Temiscaming Shores, Barrie and Sault Ste Marie all still in the hunt for a banner come Sunday morning.
Little surprise then that the championship affair would keep fans glued to the edge of their seats at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex, as a goal late in the second period from Rory Soucie and an outstanding performance between the pipes from underage goaltender Emilie Joly allowed the Sudbury Blast to escape with a 2-1 win over the Sudbury Serpents.
"I was nervous, at first, because I forgot to sign the scoresheet," noted Joly, alluding to the OWHA requirement that all players autograph the scoresheet prior to the game, typically before they head to the dressing room to get ready for action. "And then I thought I had just two other people who were coming to watch me, but instead I had 11 people that I knew come and watch me."
Part of that is due to the fact that Joly is helping alleviate a dearth of young netminders, suiting up both with an atom boys houseleague team, as well as the Blast peewee girls this year. "I played player for like two years, but I wanted to try something new, so I practiced at RHP with my friend's dad and just fell in love with being a goalie," she said.
"You get to stay in net, in the game all of the time, and catch puck with your trapper, and sometimes get hit in the face with the puck." Whatever it takes to keep the puck out of the net and helping her team to a championship, after Paungbiisohn Trudeau (Blast) and Adele Prevost (Serpents) traded first period goals.
Equally compelling was the storyline in the Midget "A/BB" final as the round robin third and fourth place finishers both pulled off the semi-final upsets, leaving the Sault Jr Greyhounds to ride a two goal performance from Sophie Jaremko to a 2-0 win over the Sudbury Midget "BB" Lady Wolves in the final.
The Sudbury "BB" crew earned silver after slipping past the Sudbury Midget "A" Lady Wolves 3-2 in their Sunday morning affair, with Taylor Buchowski, Abigail Lanteigne and Rebecca Slywchuk scoring for the winners, and Breanna Coyne and Emma Dyer doing likewise in a losing cause.
The Sudbury Bantam "AA" Lady Wolves secured top spot, as expected, in their three team division, blanking the Timmins Falcons ("A") 3-0 on goals from Sierra Boyuk, Kelly Clark and Charleigh Pardy.
Bantam houseleague bragging rights also did not leave the host city, as the Sudbury Bears avenged a 2-1 round robin loss to the Wawa Mustangs, stopping the visitors 4-0 in the final. Kenya Gravel and Julia Frank scored two goals apiece for the Bears, with Valerie Raymond earning the clean slate at the other end of the rink.
"They're really good at passing, they like to do long passes," noted Gravel of their Trans-Canada highway rivals. "And some of their skaters are phenomenal, so we made sure to target them." Like most good teams, the Bears built heavily off an aggressive fore-check, an area in which Gravel clearly excels.
"We knew that this team likes to bounce their passes off the boards," said the 13 year old grade 8 student at Ecole secondaire Hanmer. "Once you have been playing for a while, you know the angles, so you just kind of calculate where the puck is going to go, and you try your best to get there."
With her team already comfortably ahead 3-0, Gravel would put the icing on the cake, closing out the scoring into an empty-net for her second of the game. "I remember that I got hit in the shin with the puck," she recalled. "It didn't hurt, but it didn't tickle either. And then I remembered that you just have to get as close as possible to the net, because if you miss, that's embarrassing."
Trying to find the back of the net consistently has likely been the biggest challenge facing the Sudbury Midget "AA" Lady Wolves this year, as the team staged a pair of Lower Lakes games against the Barrie Sharks, built into the midst of the tournament schedule.
After recording a 3-0 win on Saturday - goals from Mya Headrick, Deseray Zazulak, Lauren Fearn; shutout from Kristin Mrozewski - the Lady Wolves dropped a 1-0 decision on Sunday. "We just can't capitalize," acknowledged North Bay native Ashtyn Denomme. "We can do everything else."
"We battle, we come out with the puck, we get it out of our end, but capitalizing seems to be our biggest struggle. Usually, I'm one to pass, so I will look for someone who is open. If there's not, then you try and look for the mesh. If there is nowhere open, you shoot and look for the rebound. You hit the pad and go for the rebound and hope to God that someone is coming in besides you," Denomme added.
"I just think we need a lot of traffic in front of the net to be able to screen the goalie, because when you run into a good goalie, shooting isn't going to do it."
Over at Carmichael Arena, the Timmins Falcons blasted the Orillia Hawks 9-0 in the Atom "B" final, while les Rebelles de Rouyn upended the Sudbury Lady Wolves in the Atom "C" encounter (Maiya Parsons scored for Sudbury).
The Mattice (Hearst) Ice Cats overwhelmed the Timmins Ravens 8-1 in the Atom houseleague grand finale, while the Kapuskasing Jaguars needed a second period goal from Brooke Kowalski to claim the Peewee "B" hardware with a 1-0 victory over the Kanata Rangers.