The Juan de Fuca Midget girls’ team spent the end of 2017 in Montana, playing in an outdoor tournament. (Photo contributed)

WATCH: Playing in the great outdoors

Local team heads to Montana for trip of a lifetime

Shoveling snow isn’t exactly a memory most West Shore residents recall fondly but for one hockey team, it’s something they’ll never forget.

The Juan de Fuca Midget girls’ team spent the last weekend in December creating memories that will last a lifetime. Led by head coach Dave Saunders, the team piled into a bus and headed down to the Montana Winter Ice Classic, a tournament played in an outdoor complex.

“We arrived at night and everybody on the bus was completely amazed,” Saunders said, adding the arena was lit up and everyone’s jaws dropped at the sight.

But it’s not the same style of hockey outside and one the team quickly had to adapt to.

“It was completely different, they had to adjust to the cold,” he explained.

With temperatures of around -8 C, the players stuffed hand warmers in their gloves and skates and wrapped balaclavas around their necks to stay warm.

“The water on the Zamboni was freezing up,” Saunders noted, adding it only did a dry scrap in the second period. Parents and volunteers would clear the ice with shovels and scrapers between periods.

“The parents enjoyed it, it made them part of the game,” he added, noting everyone that went on the trip was still beaming about it. “It was a really cool experience.”

But it wasn’t just the cold the players had to adapt to, with snow falling on the ice there were a number of new challenges. Saunders noted you couldn’t expect a pass to be on your stick or that a puck would carry normally. “The puck doesn’t travel quite as far … It’s just a different style of game,” he explained. “One of our players lost the puck in the snow, no one could see it.”

Roughly eight inches of snow fell the night before the team’s final game and all of that had to be removed from the rink before the girls could play at 8 a.m. Five volunteers, including Saunders, were up at 6 a.m. clearing snow and by 7 those numbers had swelled to roughly 40 people. “The volunteer effort was simply amazing.”

READ MORE: Grizzlies females a tough squad

The team played four games, tying two and losing two. That put them in the running to play for third but due to the weather and the two days of travelling to get home from Kalispell, Montana, the team decided to leave early.

“The last game we were going to play for third but the weather turned and the bus driver was scared about black ice,” Saunders said, adding it was the right call. By the time the team made it to their hotel that evening the weather had hit and there was black ice all over the roads.

As Saunders’ final year coaching the local squad, as well as the final year of minor hockey for many of the players, he noted the parents wanted to make this season extra special.

He hopes their trip will pave the way for other local teams and noted Sooke’s girls’ team has already expressed interest in going next year as well as possibly a team from Victoria.

“Part of the initiative was to raise the awareness that female hockey is alive and well,” he explained. “The tournament couldn’t have gone any better and the promotion of female hockey was incredible.”


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