By Michael Tollis
The Grand Forks Bantam Bruins travelled to Nelson this past weekend for the annual Bantam hockey tournament. With some of the team’s biggest rivals in the regular season also attending, there were guaranteed to be some real battles throughout the weekend tournament.
The Bruins came out swinging against the Castlegar Rebels on Friday night, jumping out to an early lead with Marcus Carnie, Joaquin Mattick and game one MVP Cam Bryant leading the way by lighting the lamp repeatedly in a 7-2 victory.
Game two, bright and early on Saturday morning saw the Bruins facing an unknown opponent in the Kelowna Sniping Genos. The game-plan was simple: play the game and the Genos wouldn’t be sniping anything of any significance on this cool Nelson morning. The Bruins were led by their powerful offence, their dapper new jerseys, and a near perfect game by rising defensive star Gabe Savitskoff, who was a no-doubter for MVP of game two.
It was game three of the round robin that was the most highly anticipated for Pool B as the regular-season, first place Trail Smokies were at the other end of the rink. The Smokies beat up on the Bruins earlier in the season and were regarded by many as favourites to win not only Pool B, but the tournament itself. This was motivation for the Bruins, looking to redeem that home-ice loss with a victory in the rematch. Maddox Hampf was absolutely lights-out in the Bruins net, making save after save on the high-powered Smokies offence, and stealing the game for the Bruins. With his tiny ponytail defiantly fluttering out of the top of his goalie helmet, Maddox made glove saves, toe saves, stick saves, and possibly even a hair save in front of wildly supportive fans at the old Civic Arena.
Into the semi-finals, the short-staffed Bruins got a much-needed boost from the triumphant return of Hunter Denamy to the fold. Head Coach Dale Bryant called a coaches meeting with assistants Terence McDonnell and Mike Tollis to determine how the lines would look with the new addition. Not wanting to mess with the defensive chemistry of the Bruins blueline, the coaches decided to put the versatile Denamy on forward, hoping for an added punch up front.
With the Bruins winning Pool B, another rival from Pool A stood in the way of a trip to the finals. The Nakusp Falcons, were the most improved team of the regular season to date, and still have the sour taste from losing the Driedger twins, Michael and Amelia, to the Bruins last year. They were quite pesky birds of prey and stuck around to see a 5-5 tie with 4 minutes left to play in the third. To the rescue again was unsung hero Marcus Carnie with a huge goal, followed by an insurance marker from none other than Hunter Denamy, toughing out the flu to support the team and helping the Bruins to a 7-5 victory.
The undefeated Bruins were flying high and heading into the finals, and wouldn’t you believe it, the Trail Smokies were waiting for them… again. The Smokies managed to knock off Pool A’s first place team in overtime to punch their ticket to the finals, and they were hungry for payback.
The tension in the air before the teams hit the ice was palpable. Parents were pacing, butterflies were flapping in stomachs across the arena, and Riley Menzies sent his father on an emergency trip to the sports store to fix his broken skate blade. Round three of the rivalry commenced and battles were raging all over the ice. Call-up player Corbin Savistkoff, three years younger than some of the players on the ice, proved his mettle, scoring two and leaving no doubt he can play with the big kids. The game was close, Maddox was up this his tricks snagging Smokies shots out of the air, Gabby Campbell was a rock on defence getting more bruises by blocking shots for the team, and in what could have been the turning of the tide in the Bruins favour, was Amelia Driedger stealing the puck on the opposing blueline and feathering a perfect pass to Cam Bryant, who fed Marcus Carnie for a one-time snipe that would’ve made Ovechkin applaud.
From there, the Bruins kept pouring it on, the relentless line of Joaquin, Michael and Josh were as solid a shutdown line as any coach could hope for. The Bruins pulled away with their clinical tape-to-tape passing, which is the essence of superior hockey, and went on to best their rivals in the finals, 9-4. Zach Thomas took home MVP honours in the finals because of a valiant effort on defence, and certainly not because of his dressing room music choices.
The Nelson Tournament Champions would not be champions without the thankless dedication of their parents, and nobody would have been there without the tireless work of Alex and Luann Campbell, managers extraordinaire. There is still a lot of hockey left for the Bruins this season, and though this first tournament win is an exciting one, win or lose, the first priority is having fun!