The Sharks competed in a tournament over the last three days, which provided a pretty wide range of experience, learning and positive signs for the future; although it certainly didn’t start that way.
In game one, the girls faced a formidable foe from the Far North – Sault Ste. Marie. I told our team before the game that a strong effort would keep them in it as it had in our first game. However, from the start, we could tell this team had been together for a while. They were a skilled, familiar group. Their ability to pass the puck and generate scoring chances was admittedly at another level. We were able to keep the game close at 1-0 after the first period, but we were all searching for ways to slow them down while also creating some offence of our own. Answers unfortunately wouldn’t come and Sault Ste. Marie wouldn’t not be abated. After the sixth goal our unrelenting opponent would score I looked to our goaltender with thoughts of relieving her, but she gave me a knowing nod signalling that she would stick it out for better or worse. One more puck would find its way behind her. Definitely not the start we had hoped for. Yet, we took some solace in the fact that our charges did not give up. While discouraged, they were not beaten.
Before game two I asked my charges to wipe the first contest from their memories. Wipe they did as the second game would mark a reversal of fortune. This time our players were unrelenting in skating to a 4-0 victory. A victory which left many of us wondering which game was more representative of the level of competition. How would our game two opponent fare against the northern squad who had their way with us?
At the end of day one, I would come to learn that one of our next opponents lost their game against Sault Ste. Marie 8-1. It wasn’t a stretch to say one team appeared to have entered the wrong level tournament. Every other team in our tournament was within a couple of goals in their weekend games. It quite often happens that northern teams are strong in pulling the cream of the crop players from a large geographic area and having to play primarily against male competition. A team like this may get re-qualified at a higher level before the season begins if they continue to dominate by a wide margin.
Game three for the Sharks would bring a whole different set of challenges. The first came in the form of a dearth of players. We were missing one due to injury, another due to illness, a third to a semi-final league soccer game and the last to a last minute commitment. All had legitimate reasons for missing the game, but it put the team in a bit of a bind in terms of reserves. Quick shifts were rule #1 in an effort to preserve energy. The second, compounding challenge was an arguably over-zealous referee. I am not one to blame referees for unfavourable game results, but in this case he was certainly a factor. From the beginning of the game, our squad dominated the play. We had several scoring chances, one of which was converted. Then a one-sided penalty parade of epic proportions began. Our team was assessed seven consecutive penalties, we spent much of the contest playing three vs. five and would end up with 27 minutes in penalties vs. 6 minutes for the other team. Even shorthanded the team was able to generate scoring chances with their determined, if not exhausted effort. However, our opponents would even the score on a five on three opportunity.
The game would remain tied until a couple of minutes left in the third when our now favourite referee would assess a body contact penalty coupled with a game suuspension to one of our defenders. While a penalty had admittedly occured, the infraction was not worthy of a game suspension. In arguing the call, our team was assessed a further two minute bench minor penalty and our depleted squad would be forced to finish down five players to three again. As chance would have it, a shot launched from the point by the other team struck the Devil’s skate in front of the net and scooted by our goalie. Post game, the Devil tried to take full responsibility for the loss, but she was hardly to blame as her teammates were quick to point out. Our point of victory in such a loss was the level of effort our limited squad put forth in the face of adversity.
In the fourth and final game this morning, we would again be down three players, but perhaps more troubling for some was the appearance of the aforementioned official. We hoped game three was an anomaly, but really knew better. Without getting into brutal detail, our penalty count from the game before was eclipsed by 9 minutes with two players being tagged with game misconducts for again questionable hits from behind. Only this time the other team joined in the fun, with their own deluxe passes to the sin bin. We again dominated play for the most part, only to skate away with a 1-1 tie. Any game flow was quashed by the unending whistle blowing.
At the end of the weekend, the tournament from my perspective served it purpose. The players played hard, spirited hockey throughout, dealt with some adversity and I believe grew a little closer together as a team as a result. Our coaching staff was also able to identify areas where we need some work. That’s what these early season tournaments are for. To measure your side against a variety of competition and to prepare for the season to come. I remain quite pleased as I was following our first exhibition game. We’ve a good group of players who are showing a desire to compete. That’s at least half the battle.