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CAMO, Dollard, Mavericks, and Saskatchewan win National Championships in Montreal

The 2017-2018 National Championship League (NCL) season came to close this past weekend in Montreal with the playing of the 16U and 19U National Finals. CAMO, Dollard, Mavericks and Saskatchewan captured the National Championships in the 19U Men, 16U Girls, 16U Boys, and 19U Women’s categories, respectively.

Spectators at the 2018 Nationals Finals were treated to three days of intense competition, as 18 teams played 26 games to determine who would claim the title of National Champion. The Finals featured a little bit of everything; perfect seasons, upsets, rivalries, shootouts, last second heroics. There was seemingly no time to catch your breath over a whirlwind weekend at the Olympic Stadium and Claude-Robillard in Montreal.

16U Girls

The 16U Girls tournament began with a four team round robin between Dollard, Capital Wave, Pacific Storm, and the Calgary Renegades. Every game would be crucial as only the top two teams would have a shot at the Championship. Dollard would go 3-0-0 in the round robin, running their season record to 23-0-0. Their closest match was the opener against Western Champion Pacific Storm. Dollard surrendered a three-goal lead in the 2nd half to find themselves in a 7-7 tie in the 4th quarter. 16U Girls MVP Casey Taylor would step up for her team, burying two powerplay markers late in the game to provide the winning margin in the 9-8 Dollard victory.

The 2nd spot in the Finals would come down to match between Pacific Storm and Capital Wave. Storm looked like the favourite to advance after jumping out to a 3-0 lead early in the 2nd quarter. A key momentum swinger was Jane Howes goal for Wave, which came just 16 seconds after Storm’s 3rd goal, and stemmed the early tide. Wave would proceed to put the defensive clamps on Storm the rest of the way, using aggressive defensive and great goaltending from Most Valuable Goaltender Abigail Gasparotto to stymie Storm at seemingly every turn. Capital Wave would only allow one goal the rest of the game. Offensively, Wave slowly chipped away at the Storm lead, with team captain Mackenzie Greco’s goal at 2:36 of the 4th quarter putting Wave ahead for the first time, 5-4. That score would hold until the final buzzer, and Wave was off to the gold medal game.

The bronze medal game was between Western Conference foes Pacific Storm and Calgary Renegades. Pacific Storm headed into the game with the difficult task of trying to regroup from the disappointment of coming up just short against Capital Wave, to focus on winning bronze. The Renegades, the defending National Champions, were looking to ensure they left the Finals with some hardware for the 2nd year in a row. The game looked like it had swung in the 2nd half when Renegades took the initiative and opened a three-goal lead at 8-5. Storm lived up to their name in the 4th quarter however, scoring three goals in less than two minutes to storm back and tie the game, forcing a shootout. The shoot-out mirrored the flow of the game, with Renegades jumping to the advantage after the first two Storm shooters failed to score. The game then flipped completely once again when the next three Renegade shooters were denied by Storm goalie Cassie Pereira. All three of the remaining Storm shooters were able to find the mesh to win the bronze for Storm.

The gold medal game was a rematch of the Eastern Conference Championship between Dollard and Capital Wave. That game had ended in a 6-5 victory for DDO but had also shown that Capital Wave could hang right with the undefeated squad from the West Island. Capital Wave opened the game looking very much look like a team that believed they would knock of Dollard. Using the same defense that had worked so well against Storm, Capital Wave shut out Dollard for the first 10 minutes of the game and added three goals of their own to lead 3-0. It was the biggest deficit Dollard had faced all year, and it was happening in the National Championship Game. Faced with an unfamiliar challenge, it was fair to wonder if DDO would be able to respond. In the end, Dollard showed the same calmness and confidence they played with all season, never panicking for a moment. Their defensive intensity picked up, shutting out Wave the rest of the way, and their offense found their rhythm, forcing Wave into several key 5-meter calls. It was still a one goal game with under four minutes to play in the 4th quarter though, when Emma Chapman would score a power play marker that would finally give Dollard a little breathing room. Rose Kanemy added an insurance marker with a penalty shot a minute later and Dollard would capture their first ever 16U or 19U National Championship in the NCL era, completing their perfect 24-0-0 season by a score of 6-3.

16U Boys

The 16U Boys competition also was contested using a round robin format, with the top two teams advancing to the gold medal game. Pacific Storm and Spartans represented the Western Conference, while Mavericks and Montreal Machine qualified from the East.

Mavericks, the defending National Champions, would finish tops in the round robin, going a perfect 3-0-0 by defeating all three of their opponents by identical four goal margins. The key for the Mavericks in the round robin, much like the regular season, was their ability to get hot and go on goal scoring runs that would put the game seemingly out of reach in a matter of minutes. Against Storm in their opener, it was a three-minute stretch at the end of the 3rd quarter/start of the 4th quarter that saw them turn a 3-3 game into a 7-4 game. Against Machine, Mavericks scored the first eight goals of the game to put the game out of reach from the start, and versus Spartans, Mavericks had a run of four goals in four minutes to open the game and to close the game. Mavericks was outscored 8-5 in the other 24 minutes of the game, but those 8 minutes alone were enough to ensure a 13-9 victory.

The 2nd spot in the National Championship game came down to Pacific Storm against Montreal Machine. Machine, who’s slow start had doomed then against Mavericks, also got off to a slow start against Storm, falling behind 4-0. Machine was able to right the ship earlier in this game, reeling off four straight of their own to tie the game in the 3rd quarter. Machine was never able to pull in front of Storm however, and the Montrealers would fall behind by one goal three more times in the 3rd quarter. Over the course of the 4th, Storm was able to keep Machine off the scoresheet until Liam Milne provided the crucial insurance goal to give the BC boys a two-goal lead. The goal would prove critical when Machine was able to add a later marker; but there was simply not enough time for an equalizer, and Storm was off to the finals.

The bronze medal game was between two of the newer NCL clubs, who both have had great success in their early years. The Montreal Machine were the defending bronze medalists after having qualified for the National Finals in their first year of play. Spartans were looking to match the Machine’s feat, having qualified for the Finals in their inaugural year of play as well. The round robin match between the two teams had ended in a tie after Spartans scored three goals in the last two minutes to tie the game. The bronze medal game once again saw Machine holding a large lead late in the fourth quarter, ahead 8-4 thanks in large part to Liam Masley’s four goals. Spartans would start their comeback once again with two minutes left, pulling within 8-6 with still over a minute to play. This time the Machine defense would hold up, and Montreal was able to win their 2nd consecutive 16U bronze medal 8 to 6.

The gold medal game was a rematch of the 2017 National Finals between Mavericks and Pacific Storm that was an absolute thriller that saw Mavericks emerge victorious 14-13. The gold medal game would once again see Mavericks go on one of their patented runs, using a four-goal streak late in the first quarter and early in the 2nd to pull ahead 4-1. In this game though, Pacific Storm would not let that Mavericks run do them in, responding with a four-goal run of their own to put themselves ahead 5-4. Mavericks were able to tie the game at five, but Storm responded quickly with a strike of their own to retake the lead at 6-5. Storm was not going to be pushed aside.

Mavericks were the highest scoring team in the 16U NCL this season, scoring nearly 400 goals, but one overlooked fact is that Mavericks were also the best defensive team in the 16U category, giving up just 91 goals. In this game, with Storm holding Mavericks to their lowest goal scoring total of the season, Mavericks defense along with MVG Matej Mandic would be a difference maker, holding Storm to their lowest goal total of the season as well. The Mavericks did need a little offensive to win the title late in the game however, and while Storm was shutting out the rest of the Mavericks, team captain Patrick Almasi was just too strong on the day. Almasi would score the last three goals in the game for either team, flipping a 6-5 Mavericks deficit into an 8-6 victory that clinched a 2nd consecutive National Championship for Mavericks, as well as MVP honours for Almasi. The win also extended Mavericks 16U unbeaten streak to an incredible 50 games.

19U Women

The 19U women’s tournament at the finals featured five teams competing in a single elimination bracket to determine the National Champion. The opening match was the quarter-final between Edmonton Tsunami, silver medalists from the Western Conference, against Capital Wave, silver medalists from the East. It was a fantastic match from start to finish. For the first three quarters, neither team led by more than one goal. Midway through the 4th quarter, it looked like Capital Wave might have finally found the edge when Valeria Rojas’s 3rd goal of the game gave Wave a two goal lead at 7-5. Gabrielle Vollman’s goal with 3:14 to go brought Tsunami back within one, and then powerplay goals by Lexi Marissink (her 3rd of the game) and Taylor Halbauer (her 4th of the game) would clinch the victory for Edmonton Tsunami in their first ever National Finals game.

Tsunami’s win set them up for a semi-final game against Crossover Champion Pacific Storm. The semi-final is an extremely tough turn around for the quarter-final winning team, having to play a must win match early in the day, before playing a rested opponent only a few hours later. The challenge is even harder when factoring in the depth of a team like Storm, who can throw multiple lines of players at an opponent. In the semi, Storm played to their strengths from the start, using their depth to constantly send fresh players at Tsunami. The strategy worked perfectly, with six players from Storm scoring multiple goals, on their way to a comfortable 16-7 win.

The other semi-final was one of the most anticipated matches of the National Finals, a rematch of the last two national championship games between Saskatchewan and CAMO. Both teams had won their regular season and conference championships but were meeting in the semi-finals because neither had captured the 19U Crossover. CAMO had won the last three National Championships, but Saskatchewan had been the last team to defeated CAMO so both teams had reason to believe they would claim victory on the day. The match more than lived up to expectations, with the teams trading blows from start to finish, matching each other shot for shot. When Sask scored three straight to lead 5-2 in the 2nd quarter, CAMO scored three straight of their own to tie the score 5-5 at the half. CAMO played from behind for most of the game, never leading until two early goals in the 4th quarter gave the home town squad a 9-8 lead. Just like CAMO had been able to do the entire game, Sask was able to equalize this time, courtesy of a Blaire McDowell goal with 4:32 to go.

As the game entered the final minute, the game was still knotted at nine when Paige Donald made one of the plays of the tournament. First, Donald used perfect timing to reach around a CAMO attacker and deflect the ball away for a steal. Donald then started a fast break 2 on 1 for Saskatchewan with teammate Blaire McDowell. After making the lead pass to McDowell, Donald flew up the pool to be in position to receive the return pass a few seconds later. When the pass came, Donald was able to in one motion, receive the pass and fire it quickly into the open side of the net, just before the CAMO defender was able to get to her. Sask now had a 10-9 lead with under 30 seconds to play.

CAMO would get one last change to tie, earning an exclusion with seconds to go. The ball was passed around to create the opening, and with the buzzer about to sound, Daphnée Guèvremont had just enough of an opening to fire a shot towards the left corner of the net. The ball looked destined to find the back of the net until goalie Amie Graham’s arm came out of nowhere to just deflect the ball over the crossbar and preserve the victory. Sask would play Storm for the National Championship.

The bronze medal game would pit CAMO against Tsunami on Saturday morning. Both teams had already played instant classic matches already in the Finals, and they would deliver one more with the bronze on the line. The match went back and forth, with both teams trading the lead over the course of the game. It looked like Tsunami might finally prevail when Taylor Halbauer’s third goal of the game gave Edmonton a two-goal lead with two minutes to play. Edmonton was able to get a stop on their next defense stand and looked like they would be able to wind the clock down even further, when Floranne Carroll made an incredible play for CAMO. With the Edmonton goalie Julia Zebak in possession of the pool after a CAMO shot, Carroll swam underwater for several meters, escaping the notice of the Edmonton players, and knocked the ball out of the Zebak’s hand. She then retrieved the ball, made a quick pass to her teammate Mélissa Manel Matallah, who scored to bring CAMO to within one. After an offensive foul on Tsunami seconds later, Carroll would fly down the pool ahead of her defender to score the tying goal as well. With that, the game would head to a shootout. Much like the preceding 32 minutes of play, there was little to separate either team in the shootout. The difference came on the 2nd shooter for CAMO, who was stopped by a tremendous save by Julia Zebak. CAMO would score on the rest of their shots, but each remaining Tsunami shooter was able to hold their nerve and place almost perfect shots that left no chance for the CAMO keeper. When Natalie Veronneau placed her shot in the top corner of the net, Tsunami had won the bronze 13-12.

The gold medal game was a rematch of the Western Championships between Saskatchewan and Pacific Storm. Saskatchewan had been able to topple the three-time defending champions from CAMO in the semi-finals, but they could not rest on their laurels, as the Pacific Storm team that awaited them in the finals had proven their worth all year, including through capturing the Crossover Championship. Storm was able to jump to the early lead, 2-1 after the first quarter, thanks to goals by Hadley Gunther and Abigail Carter, as well as great defensive work from Most Valuable Defensive Player Brianna Utas. In the 2nd quarter, Saskatchewan started to assert themselves more and more. After coming up just short in the last two National Championships, it was clear that Saskatchewan was not ready to come up short a third time. Offensively, long-time Sask stalwarts Breanna Dupperon and Paige Donald each tallied three goals, while MVP Blaire McDowell added four more. On the back-end, the pair of 16U goalies Amie Graham and Rumina Edgerton continued their fantastic play, with Edgerton making a particular fantastic save on a 5-meter penalty. They would both win MVG honours for their play in the National Finals. Storm played gamely, keeping the game close into the 3rd quarter, but eventually Sask’s level of play allowed them to pull away and capture their first ever 19U women’s NCL National Championship, 13 to 7.

19U Men

The 19U Men’s competition began with the quarter-final between CAMO and Fraser Valley. Both teams knew a tall task lay before them if they wished to capture the National Championship. The feat would require winning three games in less than 30 hours, against the best 19U men’s competition in the country. The game was tied at 3-3 after one quarter, but CAMO was able to use a 7-2 run in the 2nd and 3rd quarters to open up a 10-5 lead. Fraser Valley would turn the heat up after that, closing the game on a 4-1 run of their own, but after pulling within 2 goals with two and half minutes to play, Valley could get no closer, and CAMO advanced to the semi-finals. Stefan Ignjatovic led the way for CAMO, with 5 goals in the game.

Their quarter-final victory set CAMO up for a Friday night matchup against Crossover and Western Conference Champion Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan had defeated CAMO both times during their matchups at the Crossover, but a third victory was far from assured. Saskatchewan is especially tough to defeat if they can get an early lead in a match, so CAMO knew the start would be very important for their chances. Three early markers accomplished that goal for CAMO, putting them ahead 3-1 just a few minutes the game. The pivotal point of the match could very well have been the middle of the 2nd quarter when CAMO was able to score four goals in a three-minute stretch to turn what had been a 3-3 game in to a 7-4 game. The three-goal cushion was the difference for the rest of the match. Saskatchewan would outscore CAMO by one goal the rest of the way but could never overcome this early disadvantage. The key was no doubt the timely responses from CAMO after Saskatchewan goals. Every time Saskatchewan scored, CAMO had the answer. CAMO never allowed Saskatchewan to build any momentum over the 2nd half of the game, always keeping them at least two goals behind. In the end, CAMO was able to top the Western Champions 13-11, and advance to another National Championship Game.

The other semi-final was between Dollard and Pacific Storm. This was a match where everything just clicked for Dollard. Tournament MVP Jérémie Cote was a force, tallying seven goals in the game. His teammate William Chapman was not far behind, with six goals of his own, with Alexander Laroche adding another four. The offensive display put on by DDO was just too much for Storm on the day, and DDO advanced to the final by a score of 20-9.

In the bronze medal game, Saskatchewan faced off against Fraser Valley. It looked like it was going to be a shootout after both teams scored four goals in the first five minutes of play, but things settled down after that. The game was still very much in doubt entering the 4th quarter, with Sask up by a single goal, 9-8. Sask would put together a great defensive quarter in the final frame to hold Valley to one goal and earnt the bronze with a 12-9 victory. Callin Chimilar led the way with four goals for Saskatchewan. Georgiy Belyaev’s four goals was tops for Fraser Valley.

The final match of the 2018 National Finals was all the hometown Montreal fans could have hoped for. Dollard versus CAMO for the 19U Men’s National Championships. The teams had met five times in the regular season, with every match decided by four goals or less. Dollard had earned the better of those results though, coming away with four victories (two by one goal) and a tie. CAMO would happily trade all of those matches for just this one win in the National Finals.

The match was played in front of the largest crowd of the Championships and was the picture of intensity. CAMO relied upon another fast start to give themselves the early advantage once again. Much like in their semi-final against Saskatchewan, CAMO had put Dollard into an early hole, and was using timely plays to make it extremely difficult for DDO to climb out of it. After CAMO took a 4-2 lead in the 2nd quarter, Dollard would pull within a goal on three different occasions, only to see CAMO respond and push the lead back to two. After a Jérémie Cote goal brought DDO back within one, once again, William Chapman was able to finally find the equalizer for DDO. DDO could now look for their first lead of the game. CAMO’s Stefan Ignjatovic would not let that happen, as his 4th goal of the game restored a one goal CAMO advantage. Jérémie Cote answered for DDO less than a minute later, soaring out of the water to finish a sweet passing play, and tie the game at 8 with 3:18 to play.

DDO would get their best chance to take the lead a minute later when they earned an exclusion. After using their timeout, DDO worked the ball around looking for the opening. The shot would come from the right side, but a CAMO block would steal most of the ball’s momentum, and it would die just inches short of crossing the goal line. CAMO went the other way, and with the shot clock winding down, who else but Stefan Ignjatovic skipped a ball from distance into the right corner to give CAMO the lead once again. DDO had to press now for one last equalizer to send the game to a shootout. Their next two possessions end with shots just missing the target. CAMO used their last possession to work the game clock under 10 seconds but had to give up the ball to give DDO one last chance. A long-distance shot came from the right side. It struck the crossbar square and bounced away as the buzzer sounded. CAMO had won their 2nd consecutive 19U men’s National Championship.

Water Polo Canada would like to especially thank the volunteers from Tiburon Water Polo Club for their help in hosting the 2018 National Finals. Water Polo Canada will also like to sincerely thank all of the parents, athletes, coaches, managers, referees, club officials, PSO staff, and volunteers that made the 2017-2018 NCL season possible. We hope to see you all in 2018-2019.

2018 National Finals – Final Results

16U Girls

  1. Dollard Black
  2. Capital Wave
  3. Pacific Storm
  4. Calgary Renegades

16U Boys

  1. Mavericks
  2. Pacific Storm
  3. Montreal Machine
  4. Spartans

19U Women

  1. Saskatchewan
  2. Pacific Storm
  3. Edmonton Tsunami
  4. CAMO
  5. Capital Wave

19U Men

  1. CAMO
  2. Dollard
  3. Saskatchewan
  4. Fraser Valley
  5. Pacific Storm

Individual Award Winners:

16U Boys

MVP: Patrick Almasi, Mavericks
MVDP: Connor MacMillan, Pacific Storm
MVG: Matej Mandic,Mavericks
MVC: Hrvoje Vukic, Mavericks

16U Girls

MVP: Casey Taylor, Dollard Black
MVDP: Diba Peiravani, Pacific Storm
MVG: Abigail Gasparotto, Capital Wave
MVC: Daniel Bekhazi, Dollard Black

19U Women

MVP: Blaire McDowell, Team Saskatchewan
MVDP: Brianna Utas, Pacific Storm
MVG: Rumina Edgerton and Amie Graham, Team Saskatchewan
MVC: Ethan D’Souza,Team Saskatchewan

19U Men

MVP: Jérémie Côté, DDO
MVDP: Bryden Goosen, Team Saskatchewan
MVG: Jonathan Vitti, CAMO
MVC: Robert Couillard, CAMO



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