The Quesnel PeeWee Thunder rep hockey team captured gold in dramatic fashion at its home-ice tournament Jan. 12, winning 2-1 in a shootout over the Prince George Cougars.
The tournament saw teams from seven communities — Fort St. John, Vanderhoof, Prince George, Prince Rupert, Williams Lake, Terrace and the home team from Quesnel — battle it out on the ice over the weekend.
While the weather was bitterly cold and stormy outside, the competition inside the West Fraser Centre was red hot.
The Thunder made the game look easy, as they dominated their competition on their way to the finals, easily defeating the teams from Fort St. John, Prince Rupert, Terrace and Vanderhoof.
The Thunder would face the Prince George Cougars in the gold-medal match, a team that would prove to be a challenge for the talented home team.
The Thunder would score early in the first, leading many in the crowd to believe this would be another landslide victory for the home squad. The Cougars, however, had no intention of backing down, as they pushed the pace for the remainder of the first period.
The Thunder would come out in the second half of the game more determined and looking like the team that had got themselves to the final. They controlled the ice with accurate passing, incredible position play and fantastic goaltending that had the crowd on their feet.
“Our goalies stood on their heads all weekend,” said Quesnel Thunder team manager Mike Ernst. “Jackson [Boychuk] made a couple of incredible saves today that I’m still not even quite sure how he did them.”
With the third period winding down and the Thunder still seemingly in control, holding a 3-2 lead victory for the home team seemed assured. However, the Cougars still had some life left in them, and with one minute to go in the game, they pounced on an opportunity, scoring and sending the game into overtime.
The overtime period saw both teams have their chances to send their opponents home with a slightly less precious medal, but in the end, the hockey gods decided this game was going to be settled in a three-round shootout.
Is there anything more nerve-racking as a hockey fan than to watch a gold medal game come down to a shootout? Parents, fans and visiting teams stood in their seats and lined the boards in silent anticipation of the outcome.
Prince George was the first to shoot, and they scored. Quesnel responded with a goal of its own. The Cougars would miss their second shot, leaving the door open for the Thunder, who capitalized, taking the lead in the shootout, 2-1. With the game on the line, the Prince George shooter rang a wrist shot off the crossbar, sealing the victory for the home team. Cheers and applause filled the arena as members of the crowd felt their hearts start to beat again.
After the game, Thunder head coach Mike Riley said he was proud of how his team played in the tournament.
“All tournament long, we’ve been moving the puck better than we have all year,” he said. “In the first half, we got away from that a little bit, so at halftime, we talked about the things that worked for us early in the tournament and came out in the second half and really took it to them. I am really proud of how hard of everybody worked; they work their butts off. All weekend long, they put team first, put the team ahead of themselves, and that’s something we’ve been preaching since the beginning of the season.”
Ernst, who organized the tournament, said the successful event couldn’t have happened without the help of the community.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better tournament,” he said. “Big thanks to all my team parents and to everyone else who helped out this weekend to put this on. We had umpteen compliments from all the teams and their families this weekend.”