A combined team of Williams Lake atom girls hockey players proved they can hold their own provincially at the Tri-Cities Female Ice Classic in Coquitlam this past weekend.
Shock, disbelief, then excitement — all within a span of seconds — swept across the bench of the Williams Lake Atom Girls Tournament Team Sunday after they captured gold at the championship in the tournament, which celebrates female hockey in all divisions.
Facing off against Meadow Ridge in the final, and after 60 minutes of regulation and an overtime period solved nothing in a 1-1 tie — Williams Lake entered unfamiliar territory in the form of a shootout to decide the tournament title.
“The girls had never been in a shootout before,” said head coach Lance MacDonald. “They were stunned when they won. They didn’t know what to say. I think I was more excited when the last shot was saved by our goalie, and as soon as I told the girls they won they rushed our goalie to celebrate.
“When we won I think every coach had a tear in their eye. I know I did.”
In the shootout, goaltender Hannah Erlandson let the first shot slip by, then shut the door for the remainder to help her team to victory. Scoring in the shootout for Williams Lake were Sofie Passeri and Devony Michel, who lit the lamp for the game winner.
Behind 1-0 for the majority of regulation time, Sophia MacDonald evened up the score with five minutes left in the third period to force the overtime frame.
“It was a total nail biter,” Lance said. “The girls have just improved so much from the beginning of the season. Not only their skating and skills, but as team players and their love of the game.”
Prior to the championship, Williams Lake tied Surrey 0-0 in its opener, shutout Burnaby 5-0, edged Vancouver 3-2, then beat Meadow Ridge 2-0 to wrap up round robin games.
Players on the team, which was comprised of any atom-aged girls who wanted to be a part of the tournament team, have blown coaches away with their positive attitudes and play, Lance noted, adding he’s seen so much growth in girls hockey in Williams Lake in the past several years.
“I’ve seen it come a long ways and it is improving more and more every year,” he said. “We’re seeing more female enrolment every season. This year in atom female hockey we had 24 players, which is huge.”
Lance thanked his assistant coaches Scott Smith, Kirby Fofonoff, Matt Sherlock and Marco Passeri for all their help at the tournament and throughout the season.
“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Lance said.
Fofonoff, meanwhile, echoed Lance’s comments and said the weekend really showcased the girls’ growth as players, and added he was proud of what they achieved.
“We’re extremely lucky to have the opportunity to coach girls hockey,” he said. “It’s so rewarding to see their growth and enjoyment of the game. I hope these experiences give the girls additional reason to continue playing hockey and attract more female interest.”
Lance said preparations are already in the works for next season for the atom girls tournament team to attend more events, and said he’s excited about future potential opportunities for girls in the sport locally.
“We’ve already been welcomed back for next year,” he said.
“And this was just a great way to end the season for the girls.”
The Tri-Cities Female Ice Classic was organized by former Williams Lake resident Darren Ferris, which made the welcome that much more special for lakecity players, who were the only team in the Atom B pool with representation outside the Lower Mainland.
This season, the WLMHA was able to put together seven atom house teams — two of which were all-female teams. The teams played in a league which also included teams from Quesnel and 100 Mile House.
The Female Ice Classic was just the second time the all-girls tournament team had played together during the season.