Springbank is best known for housing Western Canada’s largest amusement park 10 kilometres west of Calgary.
And while Vernon Civic Arena is hardly Calaway Park when it comes to frills and spills, the Springbank Whalers pulled their own 360 Tilt-A-Whirl Thursday morning with a 4-3 win over the Watkin Motors Mustangs.
The Whalers were down 3-0 before going into comeback mode to open the 42nd Coca-Cola Pee Wee Invitational Hockey Tournament.
“Don’t let up,” said Whaler ultra-talented captain Jonathan Tychonick, when asked what the motto on the bench was with Vernon up by three. “We knew we could come back. We just needed more effort out there.”
The Whalers, whose head coach is former NHL sniper Geoff Sanderson (189 goals in six seasons with the Hartford Whalers), claimed the Calgary All-State and Medicine Hat Venom tournaments earlier this season. They are missing a couple of regulars on this trip, but being a first-place team in Calgary has them among the pre-tournament favourites.
The Mustangs, who went 4-10-1 in the Okanagan Mainline league before getting swept by Kelowna Rockets in the playoffs, were hardly in awe of the Whalers.
C.J. Storey converted at 4:12, from captain Dylan Sedlacek. Towering forward Coleton Bilodeau clicked 74 seconds later with d-man Keeghan McRae drawing the assist.
Josh Bridge made it 3-0 Vernon five minutes later with Powell Connor and Caden Bracken getting the helpers.
“We just came out of the gate flying and then we kind of just let off,” said Sedlacek, a smooth-skating d-man who turned 13 a few weeks ago.
“We had a strong first period. We dominated them and then we broke down in the second and third and they started scoring.”
Just two minutes after Bridge connected, Springbank responded with snipes by Dylan Holloway and Jack Thompson, 67 seconds apart.
Michael Hodge equalized with eight minutes gone in the second period, while Jackson Zloty put the Whalers ahead with 72 seconds left in the session. Nick Bischoff and Tychonick drew assists.
“They did a lot of carry over the line and dump it in with a hard forecheck and we couldn’t get it out,” said Sedlacek. “That’s where they got all their point shots and they started to score. We had tons of chances; we just couldn’t capitalize.”
Nick Higgs was in the Mustang net for 40 minutes, giving way to Jordan Wilde for the third period. Riley Fonger went the distance for Calgary.
“Moving our feet and getting pucks on net and tipping them from the point is our game, I guess,” added Tychonick, a tireless and powerful skater who runs summer triathlons (he won the Kids of Steel Kelowna race in August, 2010).
Connor delivered a monster open-ice hit on Benson Young near the centre of the navy blue Winter Carnival star with 6:01 left in the second period.
After the officials deliberated for a few minutes, Bilodeau, who was in the neighbourhood during the collision, was wrongly accused and ejected for a hit to the head.
In other opening games Thursday, the Hollyburn Huskies of West Vancouver stopped the Seera Icemen of Edmonton 6-1 and the defending champion Vancouver Thunderbirds stuffed the Spokane Thunderbirds 14-0.
The Nanaimo Clippers tangled with the Calgary Southland Sabres later Thursday.
Marcus Van Der Made bagged a deuce to lead Hollyburn, singles going to Benjamin Corbett, Alex Brewster, Ryan Stack and Denis Tuck. Ryan Bratina replied for Edmonton.
Vancouver got 2+2 from Jay Rogers and two goals apiece from Marcus Pantazis and Cort Armstrong.
The Mustangs face the Icemen today at 3 p.m.