In a welcome throwback to the days of old-school commercial hockey, the Nakusp & District Sports Complex hosted the first annual Falcons Cup on Dec. 22 and 23. Four teams composed of hockey players from around the valleys and ex-pats home for the holidays waged battle to determine the honour of being the first Cup champion.
With a wide range of ages among the players (some athletes were as young as 20; others as old as 67!), spectators and players alike were treated to the spectacle of not just brothers playing with and against brothers, but fathers skating with and against their own sons. Rosters also featured players with extensive junior and even professional experience.
The action actually began Friday night at the Leland Hotel, where the four team captains and their goaltenders held a 53-player draft to fill the team rosters. Each team was named after a tree (Cedar, Hemlock, Pine, and Spruce). Round-robin action took place all day Saturday and early Sunday, with the top two teams advancing to the final Sunday afternoon.
The competitive nature of the tournament was evident from the start as Wayne Abbott’s Pine squad edged out Mike Smith’s Team Cedar 3-2. Despite being outshot by Pine 33-14, the histrionics and skill of Cedar goalie Taylor Reitmeier kept the game close. The second game saw the defence-heavy Hemlock (captain Darren Wethal) battle the speedy Spruce (captain Ron Palmer), who had drafted former WHL 50-goal scorer Seth Leonard with the first pick. On the back of goalie Brodie Yano, Hemlock would get away to a 4-1 lead in the first period and then set it on cruise for a 7-5 victory.
As the tournament progressed, the surprising Pine would run roughshod over, led by the offensive tandem of Bryce Cann and Riley Weatherhead, not to mention their veteran goalie, Ryan Struck, who simply got better with every game. With Cedar finishing 3-0 and the other three squads each trading wins and losses (including Hemlock losing their last two games to Cedar and Spruce after losing star forward Dallas Sinclair to a wrist injury), the second spot in the final would be decided by goal differential in the final game as Cedar played Spruce.
Spruce came out strong with three goals, and goalie Mark Macaulay pitched 30 minutes of shutout hockey before giving up three goals of his own to Cedar’s Bruce Oakes and Mike Smith. Those two goals ensured that Cedar would make it to the final no matter the result, and Spruce were eliminated despite a 4-3 win.
Pine continued their hot streak in the first half of the final with three goals to start the frame. After the final Zamboni break, Smith rallied his Cedar troops and nearly pulled off the miracle comeback. After Ryan Fehler ended Ryan Struck’s shutout streak in goal, Smith cashed in a Fehler pass with just 2:16 left in regulation to make it 3-2. Applying incredible pressure on the Pine goalie, Smith nearly tied the game twice in the dying seconds. The comeback was not to be, however, as Struck was money when it counted all weekend and Team Spruce would capture the first-ever Falcons Cup.
Pine would end up with the top three scorers in the tournament. Bryce Cann would lead all scorers with 5G-3A, one point ahead of partner Riley Weatherhead (2G-5A), and two ahead of teammate Rodney Volansky (3G-3A). Despite being on the losing end of three games, Cedar’s Taylor Reitmeier was the class of the field in goal with a .910 save percentage and an average of 27.75 saves per game. Hemlock’s Tyson Klein was the weekend’s top faceoff artist, winning 68 per cent of his draws.
With hundreds of fans in attendance throughout the tournament, this first-ever Falcons Cup was considered such a success that dates have already been reserved for the second edition next December.
Big congratulations go out to Zac Wethal, the Nakusp Minor Hockey Association, and all of the weekend’s numerous volunteers for making the tournament a great success.