Vanderhoof/Fort St. James peewee Bears hockey team won zones in Kitimat, and now will represent this region at the provincial championships.
With a lot of commitment from all involved inwith the peewee team, and in spite of some tough breaks, the Bears pulled off a major upset at the Kitimat zone tournament. They won all of their games though they had not played much together, and had much less sleep than they should have.
Vanderhoof and Fort St. James peewee hockey teams faced a trying position this year because the Fort’s team didn’t have enough players, and asked the Vanderhoof team if they could join up with them, as some teams from these sibling towns have arranged to do in the past.
It was going to create some challenges for both teams to band together, but the alternative was not good either. If they didn’t agree to meld the teams, then that would mean kids from the Fort would have to hang up their sticks for the winter.
“That would be like saying, I’m sorry, you can’t play hockey, and that woudn’t do,” peewee player parent Dy deVos said.
So they went to the B.C. hockey association and figured out a plan.
They would band the two team’s players together into two full teams to play regular season games as a tier 4 team.
“Both tier 4 teams played very well together during the league games,” deVos noted. That should have been all the fanagling a bunch of kids and their families needed, but it wasn’t. To play in zone and provincial tournaments, they’d need to become a tier 3 team, according to league rules.
It was decided they would have to pick the strongest players from both teams to play as a tier 3 group, as they can only have so many players on a team, and it woudn’t make sense to send two less-strong teams.
Another major hurdle for the players is that they would have to find tournaments to compete, some real games as well as just practices.
“Now they had to prove to themselves they could play with tier 3 teams in their division, so the only tournaments available were in Salmon Arm and Langley and places down there,” deVos explained, “which is a lot of expense for the parents and long distances to travel.”
None the less, the Bears hit the road and got some good real-world experience as a team, something essential to being able to compete at a level worthy of their skills. Then came time for the zone championships in Kitimat February 24-26.
It wasn’t going to be easy, but these players weren’t going to balk after coming this far already.
As parents explained, it wasn’t the best weekend for a tournament in Kitimat because of industry meetings booked there was no room at the inns, and mother nature decided to be a bit of a wolverine as well. The game times drawn were also not helpful to the Bears hockey team.
“We had to travel all day Friday then play from 9 p.m. until 11,” deVos said, “then drive back to Terrace on the most awful roads because there was a snow storm.”
But they made it back alright and got some jubilant but exhausted Bears to sleep by 1 a.m.
The next day they had drawn an 8 a.m. ice time, so the kids on the road at dawn, and with little more than five hours sleep and some road snacks in their bellies they hit game two of the tournament. But darned if they didn’t win game two as well! Did they get to finally head to their rooms for some shuteye? That wasn’t in the cards.
“They’d drew the most shocking times … having to play at 2 that afternoon again, and no time to drive back to Terrace so they slept on blankets in the stands and ate sandwiches,” a devoted Bears fan said.
That didn’t deter them, because they got dressed, played again, and won again. The Vanderhoof team actually beat Prince Rupert, Terrace, Kitimat and Smithers all in the same weekend.
It was said after that, you could have sketched the tonsils of the opposing players because their jaws were hanging in such surprise to have been beaten by this wildcard team they had never played before.
And now the Vanderhoof/Fort St. James players were going to the provincial championship, something few dreamed they would do this year.
The Bear fans, their parents and coaches, Marty Floris, Bobby Bahr, Mike Page and Dennis Saharchuk were ecstatic because here was this group of twelve year olds who had played very little together, and had every adversity you can think of thrown at them, winning a zone tournament against well-practiced and well-rested teams.
“It was very frustrating for Terrace,” a Vanderhoof Bear mother noted, “because Terrace’s team was so sure they were going to (the provincials) Quesnel that they’d already booked their hotel rooms for the championship.”