Thursday, 1 May 2014

Weyburn Gold Wings soar towards gold medal at 2014 Esso Cup

Heading into the 2014 Esso Cup, Canada’s female midget-level hockey championship, the Weyburn Gold Wings did not have the high profile that other competing clubs carried. A 2-1 upset win over the Edmonton Thunder, who were looking for their first title in six attempts, certainly made the fans at at Gateway Ice Centre in Stoney Creek, Ontario notice.

Of note, the Thunder was not the only club looking to prove it belonged among Canada’s elite female midget teams. The Stoney Creek Sabres (who also have a parent team in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League) were the host team, and were looking to show skeptics that they were worthy of belonging.

Last year’s host team, the Fraser Valley Phantoms had qualified for the 2014 edition of the Esso Cup. The Moncton Rockets were aiming for Atlantic Canada’s first victory in the event, while the Sudbury Wolves were the other Ontario-based team looking to stake their claim with a championship victory.

The Western Canadian match-up in the gold medal game between the Gold Wings and Thunder told two different tales. The Gold Wings marched to the best record in the round robin, suffering their only loss on April 23, a 3-2 defeat against host Stoney Creek. With a losing record in the tournament (finishing fourth in the round robin), the Thunder managed to sneak past Stoney Creek in the semi-final. As a side note, the Wolves would defeat Stoney Creek for the bronze medal.

Through the first 16 minutes of competition, the final would result in a defensive stalemate. Early on, the Thunder were the aggressors, putting five shots on net in the first four minutes of play. Despite a minor penalty to Gold Wings skater Madison Colbow at 7:41, goaltender Jane Kish successfully nullified the Thunder power play.

Tessa Wilson would break the deadlock at 16:01 as her even-strength marker provided Weyburn with the 1-0 advantage. Her booming shot bounced off of Thunder goaltender Tracie Kikuchi’s glove and into the net. Assisted by Caitlin Dempsey, the Gold Wings would finish the period with an 11-10 advantage in shots.

Heading into the second stanza, the Gold Wings added to their lead. Bailee Bourassa would add another even-strength goal as she beat Kikuchi at the 1:50 mark. Jenica Whitrow earned the assist as Weyburn enjoyed the two-goal cushion.

The next five minutes of the game would be defined by penalty problems. At 2:29, Amy Boucher of Edmonton along with Whitney Thorp from Weyburn were both penalized on interference calls. Slightly over a minute later, Colbow was called on a minor penalty, giving the Thunder an extra skater.

While Kish successfully prevented the Thunder from scoring on the power play, she would be unable to duplicate her success. A cross-checking call to Kassidy Sjostrand at 6:21 put the Gold Wings on the penalty kill.

Forty seconds later, Edmonton’s Brett Campbell logged a power play tally to reduce the Gold Wings lead to just one. With a mad scramble in front of the Gold Wings crease, the net came off its pegs right after the timely goal. Alexandra Poznikoff, one of the tournament’s leading scorers with 10 points, was credited with the assist as the Thunder were hoping to tie the game.

Penalties would continue to be problematic in the third period as the Gold Wings were forced to protect their lead. Outshooting the Gold Wings by a 10-6 mark in the third, the Thunder were hoping to take advantage of a 5-on-3 power play opportunity in the first half of the frame.

A head contact call on Sjostrand at 6:24 placed the Gold Wings back on penalty kill. Merely 36 seconds later, Wilson was called for tripping. With the Thunder desperate to tie the game, goals were at a premium. Despite their best efforts, a sense of urgency defined the power play as Brett Campbell was called for slashing at 8:20.

The Thunder’s hopes were dashed at the 17:41 mark. Campbell, who scored the lone goal for the Thunder, was called for tripping. Facing a disadvantage, any chance for a comeback became difficult for the beleaguered Thunder. Despite the pressure, Kish continued to remain a calm and steady presence in net for the Gold Wings. For her efforts, she was recognized as the tournament’s top goaltender. Bailee Bourassa and Jenica Whitrow were the leading scorers for the Gold Wings in the tournament, finishing with nine points each. 

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