Monday, 4 February 2019

Steelers Earn Gold

I was fortunate enough to be the voice of a major tournament this weekend as UMFM partnered with St. Mary's Academy in broadcasting the 2019 Female World Sport School Challenge at the BellMTS Iceplex in Winnipeg. Sixteen of the best prep school and AAA midget-aged female programs from across North America gathered to determine which team was the best of them all, and the only team left standing at the end of the weekend was the Lloydminster PWM Steelers who captured the gold medal, the FWSSC Trophy, and the championship banner!

The final standings are below, but the gold medal game featured the Steelers and last year's gold medal-winning team in the St. Mary's Academy Flames. Both teams were undefeated coming into this game, and this year's final might go down as one of the best in tournament history! Not only did we get two incredibly skilled teams playing one another, but we were witness to some great goals, some phenomenal goaltending, outstanding defence, and a final that went into overtime for the second year in a row!

Payton Laumbach, a University of Alberta Pandas recruit, opened the scoring early in the first period when she went bar-down on Julianna Thompson after breaking away from the pack on a breakaway, and the Steelers were out to an early lead. Minutes later, Jamie Oleksiak took a great feed from Sarah Dennehy, a University of Bisons recruit, from behind the net, and she one-timed the puck past Bella McKee to even the game at 1-1.

For the remaining time in regulation, there was great defence, amazing goaltending, and opportunities thwarted at both ends of the ice as Thompson, a York University recruit, went save-for-save with McKee who will suit up for Union College in the NCAA next season. Lloydminster's Brooklyn Palmer, a University of Lethbridge recruit, was rather outstanding in her defensive play in the Steelers' end of the ice while Lainie Nicols had a strong game for the Flames.

The gold medal would be awarded just 1:30 into the three-on-three overtime period, though, when Hayleigh Craig blocked a shot which led to her leading a two-on-oh the down the ice. Craig never wavered in her handling of the puck as she broke in on Thompson, and she fired a laser of a wrist shot from the hash marks over Thompson's glove and into the top left corner of the net to seal the deal for Lloydminster in winning the gold medal. Thompson, for her part, appeared to be expecting either a deke or pass as she barely moved on Craig's shot, but I'm not sure there are university-level goalies who would have stopped the shot Craig wired below the bar.

With that, the celebration was on as the players mobbed Craig in the corner. Following the player of the game presentations, the medals were handed out as the Flames humbly accepted their silver medals before the boisterous and excited Steelers skated up to receive their gold medals! Once the medals were handed out, the captains came forward to accept the trophy and banner, and the celebration became a mini-Stanley Cup lap with the trophy as the ladies took turns hoisting the trophy before handing it off to the next player in line!

That would mark the end of the 2019 Female World Sport School Challenge for this year, and I cannot express just how impressed I was with the teams and players who participated as they showed off remarkable skill and talent this weekend! The ladies I was lucky enough to speak with were incredible ambassadors for the game as they were polite, humble, and respectful, and I feel like the state of the game is in good hands as these women become the next generation of superstars!

Here are the final standings from the tournament:
  1. Lloydminster PWM Steelers
  2. St. Mary's Academy Flames
  3. Ancaster Avalanche
  4. Winnipeg Avros
  5. Calgary Fire
  6. Thunder Bay Queens
  7. Red Deer Sutterfund Chiefs
  8. Gentry Academy Galaxy
  9. Northern Alberta X-Treme
  10. Winnipeg Ice
  11. Anchorage North Stars
  12. Pilot Mound Buffaloes
  13. Westman Wildcats
  14. Vancouver Island Seals
  15. Eastman Selects
  16. Central Plains Capitals
To all the volunteers who worked at the tournament, you're the true heroes as this tournament went off without a hitch again this year. Everyone put in some rather tireless hours at the venue, and I cannot thank you enough for all the hospitality you showed us from UMFM this weekend. Your efforts make it an easy decision for UMFM to come back each year when asked, and I look forward to working with each and every one of you next year if you return!

To the parents, fans, and staff of the teams in attendance and who listened on UMFM this weekend, thank you for supporting women's hockey at this level and all levels. You're the men and women who drive players to the rink, make sure equipment is in bags, make sure that players are on-time for games, make sure that players are looking after themselves and each other, and about a hundred other things for which you deserve an infinite amount of thanks. Allow me to add one more thank-you onto the pile and hopefully that will bring more because with you, I'm not sure these young ladies on any of the teams above would be where they are today.

In particular, I want to thank the parents and fans of the Steelers who kept me on my toes all weekend. If the internet stream went down, you let me know. If I was making an error, I heard about it. I appreciate those interactions because it brings meaning to the broadcasts. I know you're out there listening, so I have to be at my best for you. You guys kept me pushing my game higher all weekend, and I want to thank each and every one of you for not only listening, but for making me better.

To my broadcast partners in Alana Serhan, Amanda Schubert, Jessica Horton, and Danielle Krzyszczyk ("Krizz-chik" for those not aware of the Harvard grad), you four were the stars of the broadcasts this weekend with your excellent analysis and discussion points. Every great broadcast relies on good play-by-play, but an exceptional analyst will elevate that broadcast to new heights. You four certainly made these broadcasts better, and I look forward to working with each of you again in the future!

Congratulations to all the teams who took part in the 2019 Female World Sport School Challenge and, in particular, the bronze medal-winning Ancaster Avalanche, the silver medal-winning St. Mary's Academy Flames, and the gold medal-winning Lloydminster PWM Steelers! I'm already excited for next season's tournament, and I hope to see you all back at the BellMTS Iceplex next year!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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