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Manitobans make magic at nationals

Under-19 ringette squad claims gold medal

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The Winnipeg Magic, playing as Team Manitoba at the AA Under-19 national ringette championship, brought home the gold after downing the Edmonton Elite 5-4 in overtime in the tournament final.

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The Winnipeg Magic, playing as Team Manitoba at the AA Under-19 national ringette championship, brought home the gold after downing the Edmonton Elite 5-4 in overtime in the tournament final.

With the glint of last year's national silver medals tucked away in their memories, the Winnipeg Magic ringette squad dubbed this season "unfinished business."

They carried that slogan through team meetings and wore it on T-shirts, as a reminder of how they lost the 2013 AA under-19 national championship by a single goal.

It's hard to get to the national final two years in a row -- but with 13 players back from that silver-medal team, they always believed.

"We were so determined to get back to the gold-medal game," said Magic standout Shannon Sarahs. "It's because we're a team of best friends. We're not just a team, we do everything together."

So on Saturday, at the national championships in Regina, they finally won that gold medal together, beating the Edmonton Elite 5-4. Business, now finished.

The golden moment came in a rush, in an overtime battle against the Edmonton squad. The Magic, playing as Team Manitoba in the Canadian Ringette Championships, had fallen behind 3-1 earlier in the game. It was a frustrating twist, after such a strong tournament: the Manitobans lost only one game of 10 going into the gold-medal match and boasted the best plus-minus in the field. With the golden prize slipping away, coach Rob Walker called a time outs to settle his squad down.

"It took a lot of calming on the bench," Walker recalled. "When this group of girls plays to their fullest, they're pretty unstoppable as far as I'm concerned. But we were extremely frustrated, right from the start of the game... As soon as we got the first goal, you could see our confidence start to go again."

With that fresh boost of confidence, the Magic mounted their comeback, battling back to take a 4-3 lead. The Edmontonians would capitalize on a Manitoba mistake late in the game, scoring a tying goal with just 17 seconds left to play to force the extra frame. In overtime, though, the Manitoban women came out roaring, dominating possession and getting oh-so-close to scoring. When Sarahs potted the winner -- her third of the game -- "I swear she jumped five feet off the ice," Walker said.

For the coach, it took a few seconds for it to sink in.

"I got so focused on what was going on, I was looking to see who I was going to put out next," Walker said of the golden moment, with a laugh. "I see them pouring onto the ice and I went, 'Ohhhh, we just won the gold medal.' They were out on the ice so fast... it was a huge, emotional explosion of happiness. And a lot of tears."

So the Magic's season ended, almost in a dream; Sarahs, Kinley Graves, Nicole Desrosiers and goalie Cassandra Groen were all named to the national tourney's all-star team. For Sarahs, a first-year university student, it was the end of a seven-year career with the AA Magic program. Like most of her teammates, she'll be trying out for Manitoba's 2015 Canada Games team, which Walker will coach. And what better way to go out than wearing gold?

"It's amazing feeling, it hasn't really sunk in quite yet," Sarahs said. "I couldn't have asked to play for a better club the last seven years."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 15, 2014 D4

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