At the beginning of the season, not many people, especially those on the mainland, would have predicted that the Juan de Fuca Whalers would go all the way and win the bantam A1 provincial championship.
The gritty Colwood-based squad did just that over the weekend in Kelowna, however, reeling off seven straight wins and handing Ridge Meadows a 6-4 loss in Sunday’s final.
Teams from Ridge Meadows, Coquitlam and especially New Westminster may have placed more players on Team B.C., the elite squad playing at the nationals this week in Saskatoon, but the Whalers showed their value as a unit, beating those teams en route to the title, said head coach Brian Spaven. “For a team that wasn’t expected to win anything, we had a great season. It was a great achievement for the boys,” he said.
“We had no superstars. I think the thing that won it for us is the way we came together as a team. For a lot of these kids, they had won the pee wee gold last year, and they have a chance to win (the bantam crown) again next year.”
With an even mix of eight first-year and eight second-year bantam players, the most even among the top four teams at the tournament, the Whalers’ future looks bright, Spaven said.
The final saw Juan de Fuca jump out to a 6-2 lead, give up a couple goals, then shut the door on their opponent as they had for much of the tournament.
“The kids played outstanding defence. We worked on that all year with the kids, to pressure out (of our zone) and capitalize on our opportunities. We figured if we could hold a team under three or four goals, we’d win every game.”
As the only goaltender in uniform for the team, Adam Bland was a rock all weekend for the Whalers, coming up with big saves when needed and playing a big role in the team’s transition game, Spaven said. Bland was named to the tournament’s first all-star team for his efforts.
His heart and that of his teammates showed in the semifinal, a 7-6 overtime win against New West. With the Whalers up 6-3 with about four minutes left, the mainlanders popped a couple of quick goals past Bland, then one more with their goalie pulled for an extra attacker. Bland bore down, made a couple of critical stops in OT, and helped turn the play around. Evan Law grabbed a loose ball and shot it in for the winner.
Juan de Fuca went 5-0 in round robin play, beating Coquitlam 3-2 in overtime, Kamloops 7-1, Ridge Meadows 8-3, New West 4-3 and Delta 10-4.
The Whalers’ Dawson Parker, who Spaven called one of the team’s most improved players this year, was named winner of the Warrior Fair Play Award after the tournament.
Other team members included Jaxon Parkhouse, Jayden Polard, Colby Condon, Logan Wright, Issac Swan, Griffin Hall, Jacob Obee, Casey Wilson, Brodie Strugnell, Riley Hawes, Chase Klassen, Matt Atkinson and Jacob King. Spaven was helped on the bench by Dennis Law and Gord Hawes.