Lady Wolves bounce back for bronze at nationals

By: Randy Pascal – Playback

 | Apr 27, 2014 - 1:14 PM |
The Sudbury Midget AA Lady Wolves pay their respects to the crowd after winning bronze at the 2014 Esso Cup — National Midget Girls Hockey Championships with a 3-2 win over the Stoney Creek Sabres. Photo by Matthew Murnaghan.

The Sudbury Midget AA Lady Wolves pay their respects to the crowd after winning bronze at the 2014 Esso Cup — National Midget Girls Hockey Championships with a 3-2 win over the Stoney Creek Sabres. Photo by Matthew Murnaghan.

The resiliency of the Sudbury Midget AA Lady Wolves has been tested on more than one occasion this year.

On Saturday in Stoney Creek, that ability to dust themselves off and fight again would pay huge dividends.

Following a very tough 3-0 loss to the Weyburn Gold Wings in their semifinal battle on Friday, the Lady Wolves rebounded to capture bronze medals at the 2014 Esso Cup — National Midget Girls Hockey Championships.

Sudbury edged the Stoney Creek Sabres 3-2, a team that had beaten them 2-1 in round-robin play, but whom they had blanked 3-0 in the Ontario finals just one week ago.

Both teams traded scoring chances in the opening frame, but it would be the Sabres who would capitalize as Jesse Bellamy banged home a rebound off her own initial shot after working her way past the Sudbury defence.

Stephanie Pascal would help keep it a one-goal game, turning aside Victoria Klimek as the Stoney Creek Sabres forward was sprung free, on a breakaway, with a perfect outlet pass.

The second period, however, was a different story altogether.

The Lady Wolves picked up a huge boost of energy when Sydney Walker drilled home a perfect cross-crease pass from Jenna Gough just 1:15 into the middle frame. With their skating legs in full gear, the Northern Ontario girls were relentless throughout the second period, limiting the Sabres to just six shots on net, none of which were particularly threatening.

The locals were rewarded at 14:08 when Karli Shell scooped up a loose puck and wristed a shot past Hannah Miller, giving head coach Tim Armstrong and company their first lead of the game.

The pace slowed somewhat early in the third, with the importance of the situation seemingly sinking in. Stoney Creek would catch a break at 11:21 when Pascal would take her eye off the puck for a fraction of a second, just enough to allow a well-paced wrist shot from Stephanie Ayres to go off the goaltender's trapper and in, deadlocking the contest at 2-2.

Thankfully, the Lady Wolves would waste little time in getting one back for Pascal. Less than two minutes later, an aggressive forecheck would lead to one of the very few lucky breaks that Sudbury would receive this week, as the puck somehow ended up in front of the net and then trickled towards the far post, landing just across the line.

While both Walker and Victoria Pitawanakwat were in on the play, it was the latter getting credit for her fourth goal of the week. From that point on, the Sudbury girls displayed the tenacious puck-pursuit style that has been their trademark throughout much of the year.

The Sabres did manage to record 12 shots on net in the third, but for the most part, they were taken from a distance, with Pascal doing a good job of limiting the rebounds and living with the defensive zone faceoffs.

For a team that features a graduating class of seven players, the final buzzer could not come quick enough, as players struggled to contain their emotions, even as they exited the arena to the cheers and hugs of their supportive fans and families well after the conclusion of the game.

"I still can't believe that we're even here at nationals," admitted Gough in the Gateway Arena parking lot. "Just winning provincials was amazing, and now we're here and it's hard to believe that we've made it this far."

After falling in a semifinal that was clearly not the team's best effort, the Lady Wolves might have caught a break as the Edmonton Thunder made it back-to-back wins over the Sabres in the remaining semifinal, allowing Sudbury and Stoney Creek to renew acquaintances for the fifth time this year, with both teams having won twice before the bronze-medal game.

"Yesterday, we were all watching the game (Edmonton vs. Stoney Creek) in the hotel," acknowledged Pascal. "As soon as we saw that we were playing Stoney Creek, our feelings shifted from the disappointment of not playing for gold, to getting a chance to kick their butts again."

Gough agreed that putting the Friday loss behind them was certainly one of the keys to victory.

"Our coach tells us that every game is a clean slate, so we had to start fresh," she said. "We knew what we had to do. We know our systems and trust our players, our teammates."

While much of the Sudbury scoring this week has been generated off the line of Karli Shell,Kennedy Lanktree and Stephanie Legault, the trio of Gough, Walker and Pitawanakwat was front and centre on Saturday, accounting for two of the three Lady Wolves' goals.

"Our forecheck was going really well today," said Gough. "We were all over them. We were hungry, we didn't want to lose to this team again."

With the post-game celebration behind them, the young ladies will begin to absorb the countless benefits that merely putting themselves in the situation of playing for a national championship can bring.

The positives are endless, and certainly not lost on the Lady Wolves.

"I think just getting used to the period times (three 20-minute periods) really helped a lot, as that's what I will be playing next year," said Pascal, who moves along to the Queen's Gaels of the OUA.

"It was nice having the overall atmosphere — we were treated like royalty," she continued. "As far as moving on next year, there were plenty of lessons here."

The 2014 Esso Cup bronze-medal-winning roster included Stephanie Pascal, Karli Shell,Taylor McGaughey, Jamie Ricci, Stephanie Legault, Lily Vescio, Meagan McGaughey, Kennedy Lanktree, Jenna Gough, Victoria Pitawanakwat, Sydney Walker, Marley Patterson, Shelby Small, Megan Burt, Melisa Kingsley, Deidre Debassige, Danika Lefrancois as well as affiliated players Tayler Murphy and Kailey Lapensee.

Team staff includes coaches Tim Armstrong and Tim Stortini, trainers Cora Babij and Robyn Armstrong as well as team manager Chantal Lefrancois.

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