The first taste of representing their province couldn’t have gone any better for a group of young ringette players.
Team Manitoba put on a dominant showing as it won the Under-14 Western Canadian Ringette Championship late last month in Regina.
The team consisted of the provincial AA champion Magic squad, which draws players from St. James, North Winnipeg, River East and the Interlake, along with three added players from the Bonivital Angels and the Fusion who call St. Vital, Assiniboine Park and Fort Garry home.
"It was the first taste for all of them in this type of event," said head coach Kelly Sims, a St. James resident who was thrilled with the team’s showing, especially in a 15-4 win over a team from Buffalo Plains, Sask., in the gold-medal game.
"We had our best game of the season in the most important game of the season. It was a perfect storm, really. To peak at the right moment and have all the hard work and dedication rewarded in that game was special."
Defenceman Kaitlyn Chorney, the team’s captain, said the team’s success was a result of hard work.
"We skated hard and had a lot of communication on the ice," said the North Kildonan resident, who noted that the addition of three players to the roster was seamless. "It worked very well. We accepted the girls very easily, and it felt like they’d been part of the team all year."
Most of Team Manitoba’s round-robin victories were lopsided as well, except for their first encounter with the Buffalo Plains squad. The Saskatchewan team tied the game with 15 seconds remaining, but Taylor Hildebrand responded 10 seconds later for Manitoba to secure a thrilling win.
Goaltender Belle Groen and Chorney both said that game was the highlight of the whole tournament.
"That close one was the best game, just because of the intensity at the end," said the Charleswood resident. "We needed to score, and we did it."
Sims’s favourite statistic from the tournament was that every skater on the team got on the score sheet with either a goal or an assist at some point during the week.
"Playing as a team is the most important thing for us," she said. "Some teams have a star or two who consistently get the ring and a ton of ice time. We very rarely cut our bench all season."
The team will be split up next season, as the older players move up to under-16 play and the younger players remain at the under-14 level.
"It’s sad," Chorney said. "I think this was the best year we’ve ever had, and a lot of girls feel the same."
Groen, who won the goaltending shootout during the tournament’s skills competition, wasn’t the only Manitoba player to win her event. Jordyn Campbell from Bonivital was the most agile skater, Taylor Tutkaluke from North Winnipeg was the fastest skater, and the relay team of Kelsey Gillan of Bonivital, Carly Burton from Macdonald and Taylor Harrison and Carleigh Peterson of St. James won their event.
Three of the six tournament all-stars were from Manitoba, as Harrison was joined on the team by Hildebrand and Carly Burton.