Ravens golden in Ontario
Winning big games in overtime seems to be a pattern for AJ Sander’s teams of late.
But the longtime coach of the Richmond Ravens Midget AA girls’ hockey team has no complaints. He thinks it’s a reflection of his players’ character and resolve.
In two tournaments this season, the Ravens have won the championship game in the fourth period. And by identical 4-3 scores.
Richmond won the annual Kelowna Thanksgiving Ice Breaker over the Surrey Falcons in October, and last weekend scored an even bigger triumph by edging the Waterloo Ravens in the final of the annual Whitby Wolves’ Tournament of Heroes.
It was a long trek to Ontario for the B.C. team, and Sander admitted he expected the Ravens to be considerable underdogs against a wave of strong Ontario-based clubs. But at least it would a good learning experience for the defending provincial champions from Richmond.
“It was the toughest tournament I’ve ever been in,” said Sander. “The teams were all really good with fast, skilled players.”
But instead of being intimidated, it was the Ravens that turned the tables on their hosts by demonstrating a remarkable proficiency on the powerplay. It provided the difference in most of their games, which were all closely contested.
Richmond opened with a 2-2 tie against a team from Ottawa, with goaltender Maria Reynolds’ spectacular play in the first period a key reason for the Ravens’ single point. Richmond then outscored Durham 3-1 and Whitby 2-0 to qualify for the playoffs, during which they blanked Belleville 3-0 in the quarter-finals in a 9:30 p.m. game Saturday and then defeated Ottawa 3-1 (with an empty-net goal) in the semifinals in an early-morning game Sunday.
Captain Leah Lum was a constant source of inspiration for the Ravens, and came up with timely offence. She was also key in the final against Waterloo. With seconds to go on an overtime powerplay, Lum, who was on the point, was able to draw two defenders to her while, along the boards, Jasmine Manhas had the puck and found Holly Gill in front of the net to tap in the winning goal. Gill had five goals in the tournament, while Manhas scored three times.
Sander noted that while the Ravens and the Ontario teams play a similar number of games, the Ontario clubs have significantly more practices. And there are many more teams and players.
“In the last 35 days they’ve been on the ice an average of 32 times,” he said. “And there are 40,000 female players in Ontario. At the Midget level there is a Junior A league for the elite players and then a AA league, which is equivalent to our Major Midget. On top of that, for the single-A teams, there’s the 48-team Lower Lakes league.”
The Ravens return to league play this week sporting a 3-1-1 record and 22-5-7 overall.