Cheered on by family and friends, the Stettler Bantam A Scotiabank Storm captured the provincial championship at home this weekend following four days of intense competition.
After defeating all challengers in three days of round robin competition, the Storm took on the Stony Plain PAC Bantam AA Saints in the gold medal game, winning 6-3 in a fast-paced and aggressive match.
Stettler’s head coach, Jason Hegberg, said it was an awesome feeling to take the title, adding, “Everybody’s pretty happy, I think, right now.”
“These guys did a heck of a job all year,” he said of his team. “For some of the guys, it’s their third in a row, which is unheard of.”
With a successful season behind them, including just two losses in regular league games, Hegberg said each of his players did their part, to the point where he felt like the “whiteboard could stay in the dressing room.”
“They’ve been a tight group all year . . . It’s like they know when they have to turn it up a notch,” he continued. “They struck to the script that we’ve been showing them all year long.”
The Stettler Recreation Centre played host to the four-day tournament, which kicked off on the afternoon of Thursday, March 12 and finished with the gold medal game on Sunday, March 15.
In addition to Stettler, nine teams from the zones across Alberta competed, including Lloydminster, Stony Plain, Beaumont, Edmonton, Strathcona, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Canmore and Calgary.
The home team went undefeated throughout the tournament, starting with an 11-2 win over Edmonton on Thursday.
They trounced Beaumont 6-1 on Friday morning, followed by a 10-4 win over Lloydminster that afternoon. Saturday saw the Storm topple Stony Plain with a 6-2 victory.
On Sunday morning, the Storm won 9-1 over Lethbridge in semi-finals. Meanwhile, Stony Plain defeated Canmore 4-3 in their semi-final game, meaning Stettler and Stony Plain would again face off for the gold.
Alex DeYoung was first to score for Stettler midway through the first period. Brayden Smith would follow that up to give the Storm a 2-0 lead at the period’s end.
While Stony Plain scored twice in the second period, Stettler’s lead was extended with a goal by Brad Fulford and a second goal for Smith.
Leading 4-0 heading into the third period, the Storm bought themselves some insurance with back-to-back goals, the first by DeYoung and the second by captain Brenden Tucker.
Stony Plain scored its third goal with 48 seconds left on the clock, but Stettler was still well ahead at 6-3 when the buzzer sounded.
In league playoffs action, the Storm was scheduled to play its North Central Minor Hockey League final game against Lacombe on Tuesday, March 17, but results were unavailable at press time.
Organizers pleased with support
Jolene Heck, who was responsible for media and volunteer accreditation for the tournament, estimated that about 130 volunteers offered their support over the four days.
“It takes a whole community to put this on,” she said, adding that organizers were thrilled with the level of support they had witnessed.
“We’ve had volunteers that don’t even have kids playing or need volunteer hours.”
While attendance was strong over the weekend, the final game on Sunday afternoon saw the parking lot filled to capacity and many streets in the surrounding neighbourhood lined with cars.
The crowd for the gold medal game was estimated at over 500 people, while both the final game and the opening ceremonies, held Friday evening, were streamed online.
The progressive 50/50 draw jackpot reached a total of $6,014, with the prize of $3,007 going to Bo Cassidy of Stettler. Raffle prizes were also available.
On the event’s Facebook page, organizers thanked the volunteers, the local organizations and businesses who sponsored the event and donated prizes, the arena staff and Hockey Alberta representatives and all those who competed in the tournament.