The past two weekends saw the playing of the NCL Eastern and Western Conference Championships in Etobicoke ON, and Surrey BC respectively. The stakes were high as only the Gold and Silver medal winning boys and girls teams from each conference championship qualify for the National Finals.
The Eastern Championships were the first to be played, with the clubs gathering at the Etobicoke Olympium for the competition. The main feature from Friday’s matches were the 1 vs 2 games that would send one team directly to the gold medal game and the National Finals. The girls match featured CAMO vs Capital Wave. CAMO had compiled an undefeated regular season with a 19-1-0 record and were they heavy favourites entering the match. If any team had a shot in knocking off CAMO, it was probably Capital Wave, as Wave had consistently held the Montrealers to their closest games all season. CAMO did jump out to an early 5-1 lead, but three straight goals by Wave brought the score to 5-4 with the 3rd quarter winding down. In many ways it was a similar match to last year’s Eastern Finals gold medal game between the two clubs, when Capital Wave had once again given CAMO their hardest push of the season. Unfortunately for Capital Wave, CAMO won that game and history repeated itself once again, as a strong 4th quarter from CAMO resulted in a 9-5 win and a spot in the National Finals.
The boys 1 vs 2 game featured Dollard Black vs the host club, Mavericks Black. DDO Black had comfortably handled Mavericks Black in all three regular season meetings. Mavericks Black were no doubt hoping the home crowd would provide an extra boost to overcome the top seeds. In the end, DDO’s big guns came to play in the game, with 5 goals from William Chapman, and 3 each from Jeremie Cote and Carl Ruyssers being more than enough to carry Dollard to a 13-7 victory.
Saturday featured the quarter-final and semi-final rounds that would determine the final two places in the National Finals. The girls’ quarter-finals pitted Mavericks vs Capital Wave, and Dollard vs St-Lambert. Capital Wave recovered from their disappointment in the 1 vs 2 game to record a straightforward 14-7 win over Mavericks. The 2nd match featured 5th seeded Dollard against 3rd seeded St-Lambert. Dollard had already scored a mild surprise in the preliminary round, knocking off Mavericks 9-8, and were looking to take that one step farther by beating St-Lambert. St-Lambert jumped out to an early 3-1 lead but Dollard climbed back into the game in the 3rd quarter, scoring three straight to take a 4-3 lead. A pivotal moment of the game came later in the 3rd quarter when St-Lambert’s leading goal scorer (and the NCL’s leading goal scorer) received her 3rd exclusion of the game. Dollard was able to score on the power-play and limited St-Lambert’s scoring chances the rest of the way on route to a 9-5 win.
The semi-final to determine the 2nd spot at the National Finals was Dollard against Capital Wave. Dollard was the surprise of the tournament so far. The fifth seeds had already matched their season total of wins in their first two games. One more victory, and they would qualify for the National Finals. The game was a showcase of Dollard’s continued strong defensive play at the Eastern Finals. In 15 of Dollard’s 20 regular season games, they had surrendered double digit goals against. In there first two games, they had given up less 13 total, and the semi-final would be their best performance yet. DDO locked down Capital Wave for two whole quarters, now allowing a single goal from the 56 second mark of the 1st quarter, to the 53 second mark of the 3rd quarter. By that time, Dollard had a comfortable four goal lead, and were on their way to an 8-3 win, and an unexpected spot at the National Finals.
The boys quarter-finals saw the Ottawa Titans continue their recent hot stretch by knocking off CAMO 9-5, and Mavericks Black rebound from the loss against DDO with a 17-10 win over the Golden Jets. The all important semi-final would therefore be between Ottawa and Mavericks. Despite being the 4th seed, the Titans were the favourites heading into the game. Ottawa was on a 10 game winning streak at that point, and had beaten Mavericks 18-11 in their last match against one another. The game was a back and forth affair, with each team holding the lead on multiple occasions. It looked like the Titans might finally shake the Mavericks loose early in the 3rd quarter, when three straight goals gave them a 6-4 lead, but Mavericks responded with three straight of their own to retake the lead at 7-6. The rest of the game was a tense affair. Noah Parks 5th goal of the game tied the score at 8-8 early in the 4th quarter and the score would remain that way all the way to the final buzzer. Both teams would rue some missed chances to end the game before a shootout was necessary. The first five shooters all found the mark in the shootout, before a great save from goalie Komninos Kotzambasis gave Mavericks the all-important advantage. Mavericks was one goal away from victory when their 5th shooter swam forward, but with his season on the line, Titans goalie Simon Nadeau made a remarkable save to keep the game going. If the Titans 5th shooter could score, the shootout would be even once again. Kotzambasis would not hear of that, and his second save of the shootout would send Mavericks to Montreal for the National Finals and end a remarkable match.
The Gold Medal Games on Sunday could not quite match the drama of Saturday semi-finals. Both the #1 seeds were able to score convincing victories and capture the Eastern Conference titles. In doing so, both CAMO and Dollard Black were able to defended their titles from a year and repeat as Eastern Conference Champions.
The Final results from the Eastern Conference Championships:
1st - CAMO
2nd - Dollard
3rd - Capital Wave
4th - Mavericks
5th - St-Lambert
1st - Dollard Black
2nd - Mavericks Black
3rd - Ottawa Titans
4th - CAMO
5th - Toronto Golden Jets
6th - Mavericks Red
7th - Dollard White
The 16U Western Conference Championship followed a week after the Eastern Finals, taking place at the Guildford Recreation Centre in Surrey BC. The Western Finals would have its fair share of drama as well.
The 1 vs 2 games on Friday would see two teams trying to continue their perfect runs into the playoffs. Saskatchewan was 18-0-0 on the boys’ side and Fraser Valley was 20-0-0 on the girls’ side. The boys match went first, with Pacific Storm drawing the task of trying to end Saskatchewan’s undefeated run. Storm had played Saskatchewan tight all season, but could never quite get over the hump against their rivals from the prairies. The 1 vs 2 game seemed to be following a similar tact, with Saskatchewan jumping out an early lead, and not relinquishing it. Saskatchewan was up 9-7 in the 4th quarter and it looked like once again Pacific Storm would fall a little short. 2 huge goals from Maxwell Macmillan and Sandro Miletic brought Storm level, but once again Sask pulled ahead again on a marker from Joshua Teichroeb. Yale Cross found the equalizer once again and Storm was able told Sask off for the rest of the game to force a shootout. The shootout looked all but over shortly after it began, as not only did Storm’s first three shooters score, but Saskatchewan’s first two shooters missed. Amazingly, Sask was not only able to find the back of the net on their next two shots, but Brody McKnight also made two big saves to keep Saskatchewan alive. Sask needed just one more goal to level things again; but Storm keeper Antonio Maric was able to make one final save and give Storm the win and a spot in the National Finals.
The girls 1 vs 2 match featured Fraser Valley against Pacific Storm. Fraser Valley had won every game on the year by at least six goals and so were the heavy favourites. It appeared an upset could be in the making, as Storm held a 4-1 lead late in the 2nd quarter. Valley would come alive at that point though, and put the clamps on Storm defensively. Valley would score the next 6 goals consecutively to turn a 3 goal deficit unto a 3 goal lead. Storm would get no closer the rest of the way, and Valley was off to Montreal with a 13-7 win.
The competition now headed into Saturday and the battle for the last available spots at the National Finals. The Saskatchewan boys, after having dropped their first match of the year, resumed play with a renewed and impressive focus. Saskatchewan eased based the Calgary Wild 19-6 in the quarter-finals and then took out Fraser Valley 19-9 in the all important semi-final on Friday to qualify for the National Finals. Saskatchewan would continue their streak of incredible play by blitzing Pacific Storm in the gold medal game on Sunday 16-3. Saskatchewan was clearly out to prove the point that one loss was already too many.
In the girls draw, the quarter-finals pitted the Calgary Renegades against Saskatchewan, and Pacific Storm against Wild Thunderbirds. Storm was able to get back to winning ways after the loss to Fraser Valley by topping Wild Thunderbirds 11-4; while in the matchup between the 3rd and 4th seeds, Saskatchewan was able to top Renegades 13-8. It was a 6-6 game late in the 3rd quarter, but 5 straight goals from Saskatchewan to end the 3rd and start the 4th were enough to put the game on ice. The semi-final would be Saskatchewan vs Pacific Storm for a spot in Montreal. Storm has won the first four games the two teams had played this season, but Saskatchewan received a confidence boost by taking the final game played between the clubs. Storm jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but a four goal run by Saskatchewan flipped the script in the 2nd. Saskatchewan was able to keep Storm at bay from that point on, always managing to score goals at key times to halt Storm’s momentum. None may have been bigger than Carissa Semple’s goal with 7 seconds left in the 3rd quarter after Storm had climbed within one. Storm made one last run late in 4th quarter with their season on the line, and once again was able to get within one goal thanks to two straight goals by Alessia Marquez. Storm had a final chance with under 30 seconds to play, but the Saskatchewan defense held, and the prairie girls advanced on to the National Finals, winning 9-8.
The gold medal game was a fantastic match, as Saskatchewan gave Fraser Valley their toughest test of the year. The teams traded leads in the 1st half with Saskatchewan holding a one goal advantage at the middle break. A four goal run by Valley in the 3rd quarter finally seemed to shake Saskatchewan loose, but Sask had one final burst in them, pulling back within one goal late in the 4th quarter. Fraser Valley was able to hold the fort in the closing minutes, and bring home the gold medal with a hard fought 11-10 victory.
The Final results from the Western Conference Championships:
1st - Fraser Valley
2nd - Saskatchewan
3rd - Calgary Renegades
4th - Pacific Storm
5th - Wild Thunderbirds
1st - Saskatchewan
2nd - Pacific Storm
3rd - Fraser Valley
4th - Saanich
5th- Calgary Torpedoes
6th - Edmonton Tsunami
7th - Calgary Wild