Not only were the Ecofish Courtenay Whalers the best dressed team, they were the outright best team as they took top spot at the annual Port Hardy Wild women's hockey tournament last weekend.
It was their fifth straight year of going to the tourney, and the Whalers met the reigning champion Port McNeill Downpour in their first game. The Whalers scored early in the first period with a wicked shot from new team member Tamara Berger. More was to come from Berger with her second assisted by Kelly Godard.
The Whalers got a little complacent in the second and the opposition took advantage by scoring on a breakaway. The Whalers had many chances to put the game away, but the Downpour goaltender closed the door.
The third period got a little dicey when the Downpour tied it up with a great backhand shot just beating Whalers' goaltender Nancy Shields. With only a few minutes left to play, the Whalers took the lead and the win with a breakaway goal from Berger, who completed her hat trick.
After a close win Friday, a good night's rest and some shopping Port Hardy style, the Whalers were ready for a game against the second team from Port McNeill. They started out strong and soon found out their second game was going to be a much easier contest than the previous night. Goals were scored pretty quickly.
Captain Allison Abraham (Avril Homes), being the great role model she is, suggested to pass around the puck in the offensive zone before taking shots. While keeping this in mind the Whalers still had to win every period and show good sportsmanship.
The Whalers had great team play with the scoring being shared by Berger, Kelly Roloff, Lynn Slaby (Brian McLean) and Godard in an 8-3 win.
On Saturday afternoon the Whalers faced the Port Hardy Wild and continued their impressive winning streak. The game started off with a few quick goals from Berger, which put the Whalers in full control. Solid defensive play by Sky Niskasari and Allison Abraham helped fight off the Wild.
The Whalers were relentless and continued to drive the net, resulting in four more goals coming from scorers such as Roloff (Brian McLean) and Lindsay Neufeld (Avril Homes). Team work, amazing passes and good hockey sense combined to give the Whalers a 6-2 win.
The gold final game saw the Whalers matched against the young guns, Port Hardy Juiceheads. The first period was scoreless with the Juiceheads dictating the tempo while goaltender Shields stood tall to turn aside all shots. The second saw the Whalers play a smart defensive game but the Juiceheads were first to draw blood.
Minutes afterward a beautiful pass from Tammy Rogers sent Berger on a breakaway that she buried. The third period saw Shields stand on her head to give the Whalers a chance to win the game. Abraham, Jaime Banham, Niskasari and Jan Dafoe all had strong games on defence.
Overtime began with the Whalers short handed, but smart defensive play and outstanding goaltending left the game 1-1 and a shootout inevitable. Yet again Shields continued to amaze the fans and both benches with her acrobatics (including a cross-crease stick save) to give the Whalers a 2-1 win with an exceptional and trademark "a la Slaby" goal. Exhaustion and elation carried the Whalers on the long road trip back to Courtenay.
The Port Hardy Tournament is never dull. The town itself did not disappoint, providing the Whalers with opportunities to dine with the locals (taking over the breakfast cafe and being regaled with stories of tsunami warnings and Willie Mitchell's childhood, as told by his school bus driver) and shop at the mall where boots, light-up locker room speakers and last minute costume details were purchased.
The highlight of the evening was winning the best dressed team award: the Whalers blew away the competition by dressing in costumes that represented the full colourful spectrum of the '80s. They collected a selection of Team Canada umbrellas and the coveted collector edition of the 2012-2013 Canucks calendar as prizes.
The Port Hardy tournament is one of the most fun hockey tournaments to participate in. From the minute you arrive at the area, you can feel the sense of welcome from the community and other players.
The Whalers maintained a sense of relaxation and joviality both on and off the ice. There was no shortage of teasing and tears (from laughing so hard), and this was the second tournament in a row where players have been pulled aside at the end of the game by an opposing player, who wanted to compliment the Whalers for being such a fun team to play against.
Win or lose, nothing beats the pride of being part of such an amazing group of ladies. Hats off to Port Hardy for a great tournament.
The Whalers thank Ecofish Research Ltd. for their constant support as well as Brian McLean who provided the transportation for the trek to Port Hardy.
– Ecofish Courtenay Whalers