After all the travel of a long and winning season, all the practice and all the work, the Shaftesbury Titans prep hockey girls are going out adorned in gold.
On Sunday afternoon, the Titans surged to victory in the Female World Sport School Challenge's gold-medal game, soaring 5-2 past Kelowna's Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy. When the final buzzer sounded, the home crowd at MTS Iceplex roared. And for the teen athletes, now standing atop a field that included eight of Canada's top female prep teams, it was a feeling almost beyond words.
Last year, when St. Mary's Academy first hosted the tournament, the Titans made it to the semifinal, but no further. This time, they took it all the way.
"I don't even know what to say," said senior Justine Fredette, the Titans' leading scorer and player of the game, as she wiped a tear away. "It's such a big tournament, and we come out on top. It's just a great way to end it all. I'm so excited right now, but I'm also sad because it was the last game of the season."
What a way to end it. The gold-medal match was a brisk game, uptempo, full of smart plays and pretty hockey. The Kelowna team struck first, but the Titans responded with a goal from Fredette. She'd go on to score three, with a helper as well. "When POE scored that first goal, I think there was a lot of girls on the bench going 'Oh oh, what's going to happen next?' " Titans head coach Eugene Kaminsky said. "But we responded the way we have all year."
In other words, the Titans pushed back hard. The teams played tight through the first period, the Titans outshooting POE 12-11. But in the second period, Shaftesbury started rolling. They jammed the POE squad in the neutral zone and pushed pucks deep into the zone. In fact, the Kelowna team managed to put just three shots on net in the entire second frame. Titans goalie Kristen Campbell turned them all away.
"That is a credit to the whole team," Kaminsky said. "Not just one line, not just (the) D. It was everybody who stepped up and choked off their opportunities."
On the back of that defensive performance, the Titans turned up the heat. Early in the second period, Fredette scored her second goal to give the Titans a 2-1 lead; Morgan Wabick and Nicole Schofield earned helpers on the go-ahead. Fredette, who's committed to St. Cloud State, broke through POE's defences in the closing minutes of the second to finish the hat trick, with an assist from linemate Stephanie Grossi. Grossi added her own marker moments later.
With that, the Titans closed the second period leading 4-1. Then they locked down the game: Though POE put up a spirited performance in the third, and forward Tirra Lemoine popped a puck past Campbell with just under five minutes to go, it was just too late. The Titans were too much on their game.
Now, they have gold medals to take away from the annual Hockey Canada-sanctioned tournament, which St. Mary's will host again at Iceplex next year. For the Shaftesbury elite prep program, in just its second year of operation, that means the world.
"For a young program like ours, for us to have this success, we've gone past what we expected was going to happen," Kaminsky said. "It's a testament to the girls and how hard they work and the commitment they put in."
Netminder Campbell was superb through the tournament.
"We knew we had to come out here and prove a statement that we are the top team in Canada and we did that today," she said. "Next year, it's going to be a big year to try and match this season. But I think we can do it. We have a lot of girls returning that have been a key part of our success."