The Panago Peewee A Tyees completed an amazing season by battling to a third place finish at the Tier 2 Provincials in Aldergrove last week.
It was an incredible accomplishment by a team that played the role of underdog all season, caught fire in the playoffs, and peaked at just the right time.
Despite having one of the youngest rosters in the tournament, the Tyees competed with tremendous poise and refused to back down when bigger, stronger opponents attempted to grind them into submission.
“It was a total team effort,” said head coach Paul Stapley. “Our players matured a great deal over the year and I am very proud of their development. We were up against excellent teams with some extremely skilled players. The fact we were able to finish third says a lot.”
The round-robin portion of the nine-team event caused more ups and downs than a roller coaster at Disneyland.
Campbell River opened with a convincing 10-2 victory over the highly-touted Semiahmoo Ravens thanks to a hat trick by Maddison Devlin and five-point efforts by Josh Coblenz and captain Sage Lim.
However, the euphoria didn’t last long as the Tyees gave up five power play goals in their next game and were stunned 8-2 by the Williams Lake Timberwolves.
As a result, coach Stapley and his crew found themselves in a precarious situation.
To advance to the medal round they needed not only a victory over the undefeated Cranbrook Ice but also required winless Semiahmoo to knock off Williams Lake.
The chances seemed slim.
To make matters worse, in the midst of their hard-fought, see-saw battle against Cranbrook, the Tyees lost high-scoring centre Coblenz to a shoulder injury. Backed by the solid netminding of Nick Ordano and inspired play by veterans Darian Swift and Cory Bukauskas, the Tyees managed to hold onto 5-5 tie until late in the third period.
With just 58 second remaining, Brett Stapley slipped a nifty pass through to a streaking Bukauskas who deftly tipped it high into the net for the winning goal.
The Tyee fans in attendance, many of whom had been stomping and cheering the entire contest, erupted in jubilant celebration.
With their fate now in Semiahmoo’s hands, all the Tyees could do was sit and watch.
In the game that followed, Semiahmoo came through with the upset of the tournament, shutting out Williams Lake 8-0. As unlikely as it seemed 24 hours earlier, the Tyees ended up winning their division.
As Campbell River assistant coach Craig Schelter remarked, “anything can happen in peewee hockey.”
The Tyees faced a formidable opponent in the semis, the undefeated Fort St. John Flyers.
Featuring size, skill and speed, the Flyers jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first period and appeared to be in complete control. But Tyee first-year winger Tyler Dickson cut the lead in half early in the second, collecting a loose puck in the slot and drilling it into the top corner.
However, Fort St John recovered, scoring twice before the end of the period to take a 4-1 advantage and playing a tight defensive game in the third.
The closest the Tyees came was an Olivia Knowles’ wrist shot that rattled off the crossbar in the dying moments. The Flyers went on to win the provincial title, defeating Burnaby Winter Club in the final.
In the bronze medal game, Campbell River again faced the rugged Cranbrook Ice. The Tyees wasted no time, building up a 4-0 first period lead on goals by Lim, Andy Stevens, Coblenz, and Stapley.
Cranbrook rallied with a pair in the middle frame, but Lim’s second goal of the game, a spectacular short-handed effort midway through the third, killed the comeback and sealed the victory.
“That was one of the roughest games I’ve ever seen in pee wee hockey,” said Stapley. “There were some huge hits on both sides and bodies flying everywhere. We got off to a fast start but it was Sage’s goal that put the icing on the cake.”
After winning gold at the provincials last year and bronze this season, the obvious question is can the peewee Tyees finish with a medal a third straight time?
Stapley, who has guided the ship the past two years, says the ingredients are there.
“There is definitely a good base of players to choose from. The team should be very competitive,” said Stapley, who is stepping down as the peewee coach.