Losing a playoff game doesn’t usually elicit laughter from a coach, but that’s all Peter Hay could do when asked about his team’s performance at the prestigious Mac’s Midget Hockey Tournament.
“You can only cry or laugh and I am choosing to laugh,” said the head coach of the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds.
His team was playing at the elite Calgary tournament last week (Dec. 26 to 31), an annual invite-only event featuring top midget hockey teams from North America and Europe.
The Thunderbirds were playing in the event for the first time in their program’s history and after a 3-1 showing in pool play, the team advanced to the quarter-finals.
SEE: Fraser Valley squad spreading its wings, heading to prestigious Calgary hockey tournament
Facing the powerhouse Regina Pat Canadians (23-3-2-1 in league play), Fraser Valley led 2-0 after 20 minutes in what Hay called the best period he has seen his team play.
The deficit was down to one goal after 40 minutes and the Thunderbirds nursed their one-goal lead for the first half of the third period.
But disaster struck with about eight minutes to go as two of Fraser Valley’s top defenceman were each hit with checking from behind penalties. In addition to the two minute minor, players are also automatically ejected from the game. Despite that, the Thunderbirds weathered the storm and with 41 seconds to play, had a face-off in the Regina zone.
Unfortunately, the Pat Canadians would gain control and force overtime with 10 seconds to play.
Down to four defencemen, Hay knew his team was in tough and despite some good scoring chances, could not capitalize. Regina would then net the winner for the 3-2 victory, and add two more wins to claim the Mac’s title.
Despite the earlier than wanted exit, Thunderbirds’ goaltender Dawson Pelletier (Hope) was named to the tournament all-star team after finishing with a .900 save percentage and a 3.44 goals against average.
“Really top-end goaltending; he saved a lot of tough chances, a lot of clutch, key saves,” Hay said about his goaltender, who did all this despite being under the weather for much of the tournament.
Ethan Bowen (Chilliwack) led the team in scoring with three goals and seven points in four games while Gage Goncalves (Mission) was right behind with three goals and six points.
Hay anticipates the tournament experience will benefit his team as they kick off the second half of the BC Major Midget Hockey League season. The Thunderbirds are 16-6-1-1 and sit in third place heading into their next game on Jan. 12.
“(This) leads us in with a lot more confidence,” he said. “I saw kids step up and rise way above anything I had seen (from them) before. That is really exciting to see that we have a team than can rise to the occasion.”