In a nailbiting finish that had parents and supporters on the edge of their seats, the combined North West Sockeyes team beat a strong Prince George team to win the PG Tigers Atoms hockey tournament held on the weekend of April 5.
Kitimat coach Aaron von Schleinitz and Terrace coach Clint Ferretti received invitations from the PG Tigers to play in the tournament, which was held in Prince George.
In a first for the northwest, the coaches decided to create a select team of northwest kids from Kitimat, Terrace and Prince Rupert to take on the PG Tigers tournament, instead of fielding individual teams.
The players, who normally play against each other, got the opportunity to be teammates rather than opposing competitors.
The parents of players from all three towns came together to cover all the costs associated with going to Prince George.
“It was refreshing to see our three towns work together on this. Our Sockeye symbol even has each town’s colours incorporated into the design. I’m hoping this is the start of something new and we see more cooperative teams like this in the future,” said von Schleinitz.
He said by combining the teams the players had an opportunity to play at a much more competitive level for the first time.
The tournament hosted five teams – the PG Tigers, Blackhawks and Royals from Prince George, the Whalers from the Vanderhoof, Mackenzie and Valemount areas, and the North West Sockeyes.
The Sockeyes went undefeated for the first three games in the tournament only allowing two goals. In their first face off against the PG Tigers they took a 4 – 3 loss.
The Sockeyes still earned enough points to play in the final against the Tigers at a packed Elks Centre. The Tigers raced to a 1 – 0 lead but saw that lead vanish quickly as the Sockeyes stormed back with four straight goals to take a commanding 4 – 1 lead into the third period.
The Tigers pushed back, scoring twice, making for an exciting and fiercely fought final period – the Sockeyes winning the game 5 – 3 and capturing the gold medal.
“These kids learned what it really takes in terms of hard work to make their dreams become a reality and I’m hoping it stays with them their entire lives,” added von Schleinitz.
Coach Clint Ferretti said the Sockeyes’ victory was all the more astounding considering how little time they had to prepare for the tournament.
“The way they came together is unbelievable especially due to the fact that they took on kids that have been playing together for years,” said Ferretti.
Von Schleinitz said it was incredible to see the kids, who normally battle each other on the ice all winter, come together to play as a team.
“You could see the first time these kids were in the change room together they weren’t quite sure what to think of being on the same team as their rivals,” he added.
“We purposely teamed kids up on lines and in groups with teammates from other towns to force them to get comfortable.”
He said after one or two practices it was clear the players were coming together.
“Now you walk in the change room and you would never guess these kids were once rivals the way they laugh and talk with each other. Even more impressive is the way they are playing together as a team.
“It is amazing what something like new jerseys with their names on the back will do to motivate them. I can see they feel they are a part of something special. For most, if not all of them, this will be the furthest they have travelled for a tournament.”
The jerseys, along with socks, were donated by Rio Tinto BC Works – the company stepped in without hesitation ahead of the tournament.