The Dakota Lancers came into their final game with red hot sticks -- and left with a glint of gold around their necks.
In front of a boisterous MTS Iceplex crowd, the Lancers claimed a decisive 4-1 victory Thursday over the Louis Riel Voyageurs, en route to being declared the Winnipeg Women's High School Hockey League Division A champs. When the final buzzer rang, the girls swarmed the ice, leaping into a final team hug.
"I'm speechless, it's amazing," said Grade 12 Dakota player Natasha Esquivel, who recorded a hat trick for the winners. "I just want to keep going, but it was an awesome season, amazing game, and I love the girls on my team."
The teams came into the game ready for a battle. After splitting two matches during the season, Dakota had taken a lead in their best-of-three final series with a 4-1 win on Tuesday.
But in the end, the Voyageurs couldn't find an answer for the Lancers' firepower. Consider Dakota's opening goal, a beauty by 15-year-old phenom Kayla Friesen, who was lurking on the Voyageurs blue-line. She caught a breakout pass from Ashten Vankoughnett, streaked forward, beat a Voyageurs defenceman clean and deked out Louis Riel goalie Lauren LaFleche. With 5:12 left in the first period, the puck found the back of the net.
From there, Dakota just kept firing, registering 27 shots on goal by the time the game was done; Louis Riel replied with 17.
Maybe it was excitement, or a little bit of nerves, but Dakota did give Louis Riel chances to get back in the game. They took three second-period penalties, and another handful in the third. The Voyageurs capitalized on one, when Brigitte Gauvin scooped up a Lancers clear at her own blue-line and carried it in herself, dancing around two Dakota defenders before flicking it in the back of the net.
But it was the Lancers who bit back on their next penalty, with just over six minutes left in the second and Friesen sitting in the box for interference. The Voyageurs bobbled an attempt at dumping the puck into the Lancers zone, and it landed on Esquivel's stick; she promptly swept past the defence and fired the puck in the back of Louis Riel's net.
The shortie was Esquivel's second goal of the game. Her first came under a minute into the second period, when Friesen slipped her a cross-crease pass; Vankoughnett also registered an assist on that goal. That tally put the Lancers up 2-0, and would prove to be the game-winner.
"I just found an open spot, called for the puck, making sure my stick was on the ice," Esquivel said. "Got a solid pass, and I was just hoping it went in."
Esquivel would complete her hat trick in the dying minutes of the third, putting Dakota up 4-1 with an assist from Jessica Schmidt. "We came out strong... and carried it through," said Dakota head coach Brad Johnston, while the cheers of a celebrating team echoed from the dressing room. "It was a perfect season, couldn't have gone any better, and a good ending."