Great teamwork by the players on the ice combined with great teamwork by the organizing committee off the ice equalled a tremendously-successful and highly-memorable 10th anniversary edition of the Cowichan Valley Memorial Midget C Hockey Tournament.
The 12-team event at Chemainus’ Fuller Lake and Duncan’s Cowichan Community Centre Arenas Friday through Sunday honoured seven families affected by the tragic loss of loved ones during recent years. The camaraderie among the families and the connection with players chosen for specialty memorial awards was awe-inspiring.
“I’m so happy with the respect the kids showed,” said tournament organizer Kathy Irving.
Five of the seven families also entered alumni teams for some friendly competition that filled the gap in the schedule between semifinal games and the final.
“Our alumni games were tons of fun,” enthused Irving.
Putting the tournament concept into perspective was the appearance of five-year-old Cooper Dunlop on Team Andrews in the alumni games. “He could go up and down that ice and he was givin’ her,” observed Irving.
Dunlop’s dad Zak Andrews was killed in 2015 during a head-on collision with a driver going the wrong way on the Nanaimo Parkway.
The tournament is always filled with emotional moments and this ranked right up there, as members of a fraternity they never wanted to belong to came together in their common bond for a celebration of hockey and their family members.
The group of those never forgotten includes: Brayden Gale, Eric Kernachan, Caleb Kroffat, Christina McLeod, Zak Andrews, Paige Whitelaw and former Comox Valley Glacier Kings goalie Ryan Clark.
Saanich C2 Braves won the tournament for the second straight year with a 3-2 victory in Sunday’s final over Powell River.
There were two holdovers from last year’s team and they figured prominently in the outcome. Ben Scheuer set up captain Kylo Hannas for the winning goal.
“That was their last shift in minor hockey,” said head coach James Campbell. “That was pretty awesome for them.”
Saanich also beat Powell River by a goal, 5-4, in pool play. The Braves went 6-1 overall in seven games during the weekend, with their lone hiccup coming in a 6-1 setback against Nanaimo that didn’t affect their eventual placement in the pool standings.
Teams were awarded points not only for wins and ties, but also received a point in every game with 14 minutes or less in penalties.
Saanich coach Campbell was born and raised in Duncan and particularly enjoyed returning to the Big Stick where his team played three of its games.
“It’s fun to come back to the Valley and enjoy something like that,” he said.
The core of the Braves team consisted of second-year players, including Campbell’s son Thomas, who will be back next year for a chance at a three-peat.
The Braves had a banner season, finishing one point back of first place in the 18-team South Island division and only settling for a silver medal during a tournament in Vancouver after six rounds of a shootout.
Winning the Memorial tournament was obviously a special moment for the players.
“We had a system to play with the boys all year and we got them to buy into it,” noted Campbell.
There were no real superstars on the team, he added, but it was a very cohesive group.
“I always quote Don Cherry: good hard work beats talent that doesn’t work hard,” reasoned Campbell. “That’s really it. The guys wanted to buckle down and work hard.
“It’s been a really well-balanced team. The camaraderie amongst the teammates has been off the scale this year. It’s been a super fun bunch to coach.”
The presentations of the seven memorial individual awards at various times during the weekend were all major highlights.
The winners included: Brooklyn Brown of Lake Cowichan (Paige Whitelaw Most Sportsmanlike Player); Nathaniel Lefebvre of Mission (Zak Andrews Mr. Personality Award); Brenden Wylie of Nanaimo (Ryan Clark Most Outstanding Goaltender); Ethan Brown of Lake Cowichan (Brayden Gale Player With the Most Heart); Reece Lloyd of Tri-Port (Eric Kernachan Karny Award for Fearless Player); Ty Vallee of Port Alberni (Caleb Kroffat Award for Player With the Most Character) and Zakeysha Corey of Port Alberni (Christina McLeod Award for Player With the Most Passion For The Game).
“It’s cool,” said Lloyd of his award. “I’m proud to get this.”
There were three Cowichan Valley teams in the tournament. Cowichan Valley C3 went 3-2 and C2 1-3-1 in Pool A and the Cowichan Valley C1 team had a record of 0-4-1 in Pool B.
The accolades for organizers began pouring in right after the tournament ended.
“First off, thank you for all your hard work and effort leading up to this weekend,” praised Yvette McKay-MacPhail of Nanaimo. “I know how much time and effort it takes to run a successful tournament. I also would like to thank you for the manager’s basket. It was a wonderful surprise to be given such a generous gift.”
Gifts are the trademark of this tournament. MVPs of each game received towels and every player in the tournament was given a hoodie.
“As long as I’ve been in minor hockey, we’ve tried to do that,” said Irving. “We definitely want to make sure you get bang for your buck when you come here.”
The tournament committee, under the direction of Irving and her husband Dale at Fuller Lake, and Kristen Arnold in Duncan, worked long and hard to make sure everything ran smoothly. Irving was pleasantly surprised when longtime tournament workhorse Andrew Young managed to arrange for time off work at the last minute to oversee operations for every game at Fuller Lake.
There was a special feature in the tournament program in tribute to the Humboldt Broncos.
Irving suggested the tournament will be held one weekend later next year, “because we want to encompass the spring breaks that are common across the province.”