Despite having just 11 players, Whistler’s U13 A1 Winterhawks beat the odds and punched their ticket to this year’s provincial tournament, taking place March 19 and 20.
While making it to provincials was the goal the team was striving for from the beginning of the year, with the way the season started, head coach Amanda Schmitt never would have thought it would actually come to fruition.
“Not going to lie, I kind of laughed at them like, ‘OK, we’ll get to provincials,’ but I didn’t really think we’d make it. But they were dead serious and completely set on it,” said Schmitt. “So we made a game plan on everything we needed to work on, and honestly, I’ve never seen such dedicated kids to the sport of hockey than I did this season.”
Whether it was attending public skates, watching any game they could at the Meadow Park Sports Centre or spending their spare time shooting pucks and playing games on each other’s outdoor rinks, the team lived and breathed hockey this year, according to Schmitt. And the dedication paid off.
All year, the Winterhawks, a tier-four team, played against stiffer competition from the flight above them. So once playoffs rolled around and the Winterhawks had to return to tier four, they did so as the top ranked team with a first-round bye.
In the second round, they beat the Squamish team by a combined score of 17-0 in their two-game series before moving on to the finals where they would win again to punch their ticket to the provincial tournament.
“It was the best feeling ever as the final playoff game was against Semiahmoo and we were down 1-0, but at the end of the game we won 5-2,” said team captain Noah Eade. “As the final buzzer went, we all threw our sticks and gloves and we were screaming that we were going to provincials.”
Ultimately, at the provincial tournament, the Winterhawks finished the five-game round robin with a 2-3 record but were able to keep each game close, an impressive feat given the short bench and the increased game times from one hour and 15 minutes to two-and-a-half-hour games.
But as proud as she is about everything the team was able to accomplish on the ice, Schmitt was even more proud about the growth she saw in each of her players off the ice.
“I definitely went home a couple times and went, ‘oh this is going to be a tough year, I don’t know how I’m going to rally this group of kids.’ But we just followed the process and by the end of the season … the community members that these kids have become this year is way more important than the hockey players they became,” said Schmitt. “Like I said, I had some behavioural issues at the beginning of the season and by the end of the season the kids that I had been dealing with are now probably the best teammates that the other kids could ever ask for. I’ve even had some of the kids come up and say, ‘I’m so happy he’s on my team, and I didn’t want him on my team at first.’ So I think that is a huge thing more so than the hockey itself—just how much they’ve developed as a little group and a little community.”
With the 2021-22 season having come to a close, and some of the players set to move up to U15 hockey next year, this particular crew won’t be together again next year, but according to Eade, this season has set the bar for the coming years and the boys all hope to be back in provincials again next year.
“It felt really great, even though we didn’t win,” said Eade. “It was really awesome that we made it there. That was our goal, and next time we’ll try and get better and better and try to win it all.”