Sunday, 24 April 2016

2016 Esso Cup in Weyburn rates as "good"

Tourney faces challenges common in Canadian amateur sport

Brooklyn Gemmill raises the Esso Cup for the Ice Cats.
    WEYBURN, Sask. – In a lot of ways, a community like Weyburn is the perfect place to hold a tournament like the Esso Cup, but that doesn’t mean the event will be void of difficulties.
    On Saturday, the national female midget AAA hockey championship tournament wrapped up with the Brantford Ice Cats romping to a 10-3 victory in the gold medal game against the Express du Richelieu. The championship game shown before a national audience on TSN didn’t do justice to how close the on ice competition was between the six teams in attendance.
    The four clubs that made the playoff round all sported 3-2 records. Out of the 19 games played over seven days, nine were decided by one goal and six had two-goal spreads.
    In preliminary round play, the Express downed the Ice Cats 5-4 in a match that required a tiebreaking shootout. All six contests over the final two days of preliminary round play were decided by one goal, which showed how the competitive level was cracked upwards when it got to crunch time.
Floriane Dion (#7) tries to hold off Nicole Kelly (#17).
    The event was filled with compelling contests that were made for television, but unfortunately didn’t get any national air time. The 2016 Esso Cup isn’t the first national amateur sport tournament this has happened to, and it won’t be the last.
    Away from the game action itself, the community of Weyburn did have a sense of excitement about the tourney. In midsize large cities like Saskatoon and Regina and definitely in big centres like Calgary, the Esso Cup would be lost among a maze of other events be it sports or entertainment. In a centre like Weyburn that is just shy of a population figure of 11,000, the Esso Cup was a big deal.
    As soon as an out of towner goes to check into a hotel, a staff member would automatically ask out of curiosity if you were there for hockey.
    When you arrived at Crescent Point Place, the staffers from Hockey Canada and the tournament committee were cordial and inviting. It felt like everything ran smoothly. You pretty much wanted to be at the rink.
    Unfortunately when you looked into the stands, the great organization and friendly atmosphere didn’t translate into butts in the seats except for when the host Weyburn Southern Range Gold Wings took the ice.
    That right there also shows a pitfall of amateur sport in Canada. In order for a big national championship tournament to be termed a great success or a spectacular success, it often revolves around the performance of the host team. That shows a weakness in the culture of sports in Canada.
Captain Bailee Bourassa and the Gold Wings are loved in Weyburn.
    If sport in Canada was strong culturally, national championship events like the Esso Cup would be a sellout regardless if a home team was present or not. However, the presence of a host team is what local committees need to sell sponsorships, advertising and ticket packages.
    In some years, even the prestigious Memorial Cup tournament, which crowns the champion of major junior hockey, isn’t immune to that fact.
    With that said, you don’t have to be in Weyburn long to find out there is a lot of love for the Gold Wings. There are signs up in various parts of the town showing support for the club and the local Boston Pizza outlet has auctioned off autographed Gold Wings jerseys for the odd fundraiser. You could even bid for a cool looking Gold Wings mini fridge at the Esso Cup’s silent auction.
    The players are always out and about rocking their team jackets. Captain Bailee Bourassa is also like a little celebrity, and that likely started from the fact she scored the winning goal that delivered the Gold Wings a 2-1 Esso Cup championship victory over the Edmonton Thunder in 2014 out in Stoney Creek, Ont.
Madi Solie is well-known in Weyburn.
    Players like Madi Solie, Elise Endicott, Maeve McGauley, Jensen Hammer and goaltender Chantal Burke are all well-known in town.
    The Gold Wings had a solid 18-9-1 regular season record in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, and they fell in an SFMAAAHL semifinal series to the Saskatoon Stars. The Stars went on to win league and Western regional titles to qualify for the Esso Cup.
    Had the Gold Wings made the Esso Cup’s playoff round and found a way to qualify for the tournament final, TSN’s audience would have likely seen a raucous crowd for the championship game. The hosts lost three straight two-goal decisions to open the tournament before rallying to win two straight extra time games to finish at 2-3. The Gold Wings showed a lot of heart marching on after Bourassa broke her arm in their second tournament game and was lost for the rest of the event.
    In a perfect world, the championship game would have been close and compelling like the majority of the tournament was. After 20 minutes, it appeared the title game would be intriguing after Emilie Lavoie scored twice to give the Express a 2-1 lead. The Ice Cats had a slim 9-7 edge in shots on goal.
    No one could have seen the blowout that was about to develop and blowouts will happen in sports even in contests between teams are supposed to be closely matched. The Ice Cats exploded for five goals in the second period to take a 6-2 advantage. The lead would grow to 9-2 by the 7:03 mark of the third before the final 10-3 outcome was cemented.
    Nicole Kelly, Kayla Bailey and Brooklyn Gemmill all had two-goal nights for the Ice Cats, while Paige Rynne, Lauren Martin, Taylor Trussler and Chenelle Caron-Godon had singles. Emma Verbruggen made 16 stops to earn the win in goal.
Chenelle Caron-Godon (#5) had the final goal in the Ice Cats Esso Cup win.
    Eloise Dube had the third period goal for the Express. Carolanne Franc-Brown and Marithe Levesque split time in goal with Franc-Brown originally drawing the start. Franc-Brown turned away 8-of-12 shots fired her way, while Levesque stopped 21-of-27 shots she faced.
    When the dust settled, the Ice Cats had to be credited for establishing a new tournament record for goals in a championship game at 10 and for showing off impressive offensive skill.
    On the media front, the Esso Cup was largely ignored. The biggest media presence came from Hockey Canada’s staff itself, which created the video, still pictures and written content for the organization’s website. There was no national media presence to cover the title game.
    There seemed to be no out of province media members at the event, but there were some local outlets from surrounding areas that stopped in and did the odd feature.
    The lack of media was likely great for the staffers that produced the website for Hockey Canada, because they had the run of doing whatever they wanted for features. What one forgets is that only people interested in the sport of hockey or the Esso Cup itself would check out the Hockey Canada site.
The Ice Cats take a victory lap with the Esso Cup.
    Other media outlets help bring the event’s story to people that might not otherwise take an interest and create a casual follower for a short time. With Canada’s mainstream media owned by a handful of big companies, anything sports related that is not the NHL, UFC, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Toronto Blue Jays or Toronto Raptors are out of luck.
    Weyburn put together a good Esso Cup, and the effort was there to make things great and even spectacular. The uncontrollable forces kept the event from having a more lofty status.
    It would be nice if major amateur sport championship tournaments in Canada could have everything fall in place more often to allow them to reach their potential. Unfortunately, that likely won’t happen any time soon.

Ice Cats' Kelly cleans up on awards

Nicole Kelly won three Esso Cup awards.
    Besides winning the Esso Cup, Ice Cats standout Nicole Kelly cleaned up on the tournament’s major awards.
    The Esso Cup tournament awards were handed out Friday before the start of the playoff round. Kelly took home honours as the tournament’s top forward, most valuable player and top scorer. The underage standout,  who turned 15 in February, netted nine goals and six assists in seven tournament games. In the Esso Cup championship game, Kelly had two assists to go along with her two goals.
    Ice Cats rearguard Paige Cohoon picked up honours as the tournament’s top defender. Kate Lloyd of the De Winton, Alta., based Rocky Mountain Raiders was named the top goaltender, and winger Leonie Philbert of the Express took home honours as the top goaltender.
    Besides handing out those honours, Gold Wings grad Toni Ross was named the winner of the Isobel Gathorne-Hardy Award for her leadership and commitment to the game. Ross recently wrapped up her post-secondary career playing goal for the University of Regina Cougars women’s team.
    Ross was a first team Canada West all-star this past season with the Cougars, and she was also an academic all-Canadian. The Verwood, Sask., product posted a 17-6-1 record, a 1.93 goals against average, a .929 save percentage and three shutouts with the Cougars this past season.
    She coaches at goaltender instruction academies in Regina and the Cougars Cubs’ hockey program. Ross is also active with the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and Big Sisters program in Regina.
Paige Cohoon was named the top defender at the Esso Cup.
    Besides the awards, the officials that worked the tournament semifinal game on Friday between the Raiders and Express have to be commended for making a tough clutch and correct call in overtime. With the teams locked in a 3-3 tie, the Raiders looked like they netted the winning goal, when centre Breanne Trotter’s dump in from outside the blue-line went into the Express net.
    Referee Michelle Stapleton and linesmen Jessa Drury and Andrea Kosloski had a conference correctly called the goal back due to a delayed offside call. It would have been easy to have let the goal stand as the Raiders were celebrating and one of the Express players made a quiet protest.
    When the game resumed, the Express pulled out a 4-3 victory after a tiebreaking shootout.

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