With their provincial counterparts having already claimed the title in the female tournament at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships on Saturday, the pressure was on Manitoba’s male team to make it double gold.
The female team made things look easy in their final that afternoon, beating Saskatchewan 7-0, led by a hat trick from Mallory Harvey and Bianca Zak’s 21 saves. Ontario, however, made Manitoba’s male team work a lot harder for their title.
Manitoba led 3-0 after one period, and 4-2 after two. Ontario got back within a goal thanks to a shorthanded marker early in the third, then tied things up at 4-4 with just over 11 minutes left to play. A snipe by Shadow Reuben put Ontario ahead with six minutes remaining, but Manitoba’s Mason Martin scored with 70 seconds left to play to force overtime.
The extra period was more back-and-forth action, finishing after 13 minutes and 25 seconds when Justin Nachbaur beat Ontario goalie Seth McKay, giving Manitoba the golden sweep.
The day started out with a three-overtime marathon in the female bronze-medal game that ended with B.C. edging Alberta 2-1 on Camryn Scully’s winner, while B.C. goalie Jaydin Spooner made 40 saves and Alberta’s Josie Leah Cardinal stopped 49 shots.
B.C. also won the male bronze medal with a 5-2 victory over Saskatchewan. This marked the first time that both B.C. teams have medalled in the same NAHC tournament.
“It’s tough being the host team with all that pressure,” said Rick Brant, who represented the Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity & Recreation Council on the NAHC organizing committee. “Team B.C. should be proud.”
Defenceman Ty Brant — Rick’s son — was the lone player from the Cowichan Valley on either B.C. team, and was pleased to help his team earn a medal for the second year in a row.
“It felt pretty good,” Ty said. “I thought it went well. Obviously we didn’t finish where we wanted to, but we had a strong last game.”
Brant was an affiliate player with B.C.’s gold-medal team in Mississauga a year ago, playing four games, including the quarterfinal, and he was thrilled to return, especially in his hometown.
“It was great coming back for the second time,” he said. “It felt good to play a bigger role for the team. “It feels great playing in front of a home crowd. My friends from Duncan came out and supported me, so huge thanks to them.”
Brant is still eligible to return for Team B.C. in 2018 when the tournament heads to Nova Scotia, and he intends to try out.
“Hopefully I’ll make the team next year,” he said.
From the skill of the midget-age players in the tournament, to the efforts of the community to make the championships a success, Rick Brant was pleased with the entire event.
“We were just thrilled with the level of competition,” he said. “And we couldn’t ask for a better script for the medal games.”
The eight teams, representing every area of Canada, were also happy with the way things went, Brant said.
“The feedback from the teams has been fantastic,” he related. “Cowichan delivered a phenomenal event. In the end, it was a tremendous volunteer corps that came together to support the event that made this go off so well.”
“Our hope is that this is a life experience for these kids. Hopefully it will launch some careers, but in the end, they will be left with a positive impression and a positive feeling about being in the Cowichan Valley. For many of them, this is a first: their first championship, first time out of their province, first time out of their community. This community has left such a trememdous impact on these kids.”
The NAHC is unlike any other tournament, and it was clear from watching the players and being around the event how much it meant to the players.
“There are a lot of national championships and a lot of big hockey tournaments,” Brant said. “But there’s nothing that ties elite hockey to culture like this one.”