The Quesnel Fury floor hockey team has returned from the 2019 Special Olympics B.C. Winter Games in Greater Vernon with a gold medal and a lot to be proud of.
Coach Rick Prosk says the tournament, which took place Feb. 21-23 and featured 14 teams, was “extremely competitive.”
The Fury entered the tournament down a player after one of Quesnel’s players fell during a basketball game three weeks ago and broke two fingers. The registration deadline had already passed, so it was too late to replace him, and Quesnel ended up travelling to the competition with the minimum 13 players allowed, explained Prosk.
The Fury tied its two seeding round games against Alberni and Delta and ended up in the C Division alongside those same two teams.
The Fury’s first game was against the Vancouver Storm, and the Quesnel team won 17-2.
“It may seem that we ran up the score, but since ‘goals for’ counts as a tie-breaker, those goals scored would come into play later,” said Prosk.
The Fury’s second game was against Delta, a stronger opponent. Quesnel had a 3-0 lead and had outshot Delta 19-2 in the first nine minutes before Delta mounted a comeback.
The score was tied 4-4 at the 18:00 mark, but the Fury took charge of the game, outshooting Delta 29-3 and scoring six unanswered goals. Jerman Severeid led all scorers with four.
Quesnel played Alberni on the Saturday and suffered its only loss.
“From the outset, Alberni played a strong, forechecking game and pressured Quesnel defensively,” said Prosk. “The teams traded goals for the first half of the game until Alberni pulled ahead to win 11-7. This was the only game in which Quesnel was outshot, 31-26.”
Quesnel’s top scorer was Travis Burt with two.
This loss meant that Alberni and Quesnel had both lost one game, and Quesnel’s only shot at gold lay in beating Kootenay in the final round-robin game.
Kootenay was undefeated in three games, having outscored its opposition 33-13.
“We knew we could force a three-way tie for first place with a victory, but in my mind, this seemed like a huge task,” said Prosk. “I was really surprised when the game started, and from the opening whistle, we took the play to them and had a 6-0 lead. I wasn’t expecting that, and I don’t think the other team was either.”
Goals from Josh Tilsner and Greg Lindstrom — his first goal in floor hockey competition — got Quesnel off to a 2-0 start in the first three minutes of the game.
Two more goals came from Riley Foster and Aaron Allinson in the next three minutes.
By the 15:00 mark, Quesnel had a 6-0 lead and a 28-6 shot advantage.
However, Prosk says the wheels started to fall off.
“Over the next 12 minutes, Kootenay scored five goals and had a 15-2 shot advantage,” he said. “The tide began to turn with Tilsner’s second goal. Kootenay wouldn’t score again and mustered only three shots.”
Kootenay got to within one goal, and it was 6-5 for Quesnel with nine minutes left in the game.
“We had called a timeout, and we had a little discussion about how hard everyone was going to have to work to hold them off and keep the lead,” said Prosk. “They managed to shut the door, and the Kootenay team managed only three shots on goal in the last nine minutes, and we managed three goals. This was a team that basically wanted to bulldoze their way past us and score a goal, and physically, we had to match them with hard work.”
Foster and Tilsner scored one more goal each, and the game finished 9-5, with Tilsner’s goal coming in the final two minutes. That left a three-way tie for first place.
Quesnel and Kootenay led with 22 goals against each. The next tiebreaker was total goals for: Quesnel had 43 to Alberni’s 38, and was awarded the gold medal.
“We knew in order to have a chance to win gold, we would have needed to win by four goals, but we didn’t tell the players that,” said Prosk. “If we hadn’t scored the last goal with two minutes left or they had scored one more goal, we would have won silver. That’s what it came down to, that effort in the last nine minutes of that game to win the gold medal. That was really impressive.”
Prosk says the end of this was as intense of a sporting event he has been to, and he’s been coaching for almost 40 years.
“As a coach, that’s the sort of thing that motivates you to keep going, to be part of that and having the athletes working together as a team to achieve something like that,” he said. “It was great because we went with 13 players, the bare minimum allowed. Ten of them scored in the tournament at some point, and one of them scored their first goal. That helped solidify that everyone had contributed and it wasn’t just a few star players who had won the game — it was really a team effort.”
“As coaches, we were really impressed with the camaraderie as well,” added Prosk. “It was a very supportive group.”
Now, the Quesnel Fury will wait to find out if the team advances to the nationals.
“Often, gold medal winners will get to advance to the national games, but it isn’t a guaranteed thing,” said Prosk, noting the decision comes from the provincial office of Special Olympics. “There are three division winners, so ideally, all three division winners will advance to the national games, but we have to wait weeks, maybe even months, until that final decision is made.”
• Look for more Special Olympics BC Winter Games coverage in Friday’s paper.