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Classy play the name of the game for Saskatchewan boys.

The Saskatchewan entry managed to successfully defend its boys' title at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC).

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Saskatchewan registered a convincing 8-0 victory over a Quebec-based entry called Eastern Door and the North (EDN) in the boys' gold-medal game held on May 9 in Winnipeg.

As for the girls' crown, it was captured by the host Manitoba side, which defeated Ontario South 6-4 in its championship final.

The seven-day tournament attracted 18 teams. Ten were battling for top honors in the boys' division. And there were eight squads in the girls' grouping.

Courage Bear, the general manager of the Saskatchewan boys' team, felt his club was capable of winning back-to-back titles.

"We had 11 guys who were returning so we knew we had a good team," Bear said.

And winning gold once again was the ultimate objective for the club.

"That's what your goal is when you put the team together," Bear said.

As it turned out, the Saskatchewan team was unbeatable at the tournament, winning six games and tying its other one.

Though the gold-medal contest turned into a lopsided affair, Bear said the match was relatively close for some time.

"Midway through the second it was still only a two or three-goal game," Bear said. "It wasn't until late in the second period that we took control."

Saskatchewan led 2-0 after the first period. But EDN had numerous decent scoring opportunities in the opening frame.

"I just think our goalie (Thomas Pratt) made some saves early in the game," Bear said.

By the end of the second period, Saskatchewan had extended its lead to 5-0. The club then cruised to victory by adding three more goals in the final 20 minutes of action.

Saskatchewan's toughest game at the tournament actually occurred in the semi-finals, when it defeated Manitoba 4-2.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba had played to a 3-3 tie in a round-robin contest.

Bear was not concerned about facing the host team again in the semi-finals, with a spot in the gold-medal game on the line.

"I don't think we were worried," he said. "We had tied them and we didn't play our best game of the tournament."

No doubt one of the best periods Saskatchewan played in the tournament was the final one in its semi-final. Manitoba led 2-1 heading into the third period but Saskatchewan was able to post the victory by scoring three unanswered goals.

Manitoba rebounded from its semi-final loss and managed to win some hardware. It beat Ontario 6-4 in the bronze-medal game.

As for Bear, he actually ended up winning a pair of medals at the tournament. That's because he also served as the general manager for the Saskatchewan girls' squad, which won the bronze medal in its category.

Saskatchewan doubled Ontario North 4-2 in the girls' bronze-medal battle.

Bear was also proud of the fact the Saskatchewan boys' team earned some compliments from opposing coaches.

Saskatchewan had blanked Newfoundland and Labrador by a whopping 18-0 count in a round-robin match. And it also handily beat the Northwest Territories 9-2 in its quarter-final.

"It wasn't like our guys were trying to embarrass them," Bear said of those uneven affairs. "In fact, the coaches from both of those teams said that our guys were pretty classy on how they behaved when the games were out of reach."

Like Bear, Peter Symchuk, who was the bench boss for the Manitoba girls' entry, wasn't shocked to see his team strike gold at the NAHC.

"I was optimistic," he said. "Going into it I was really expecting us to be competing for a medal."

Symchuk's charges had high expectations as they had fared well in some exhibition matches prior to the tournament.

The Manitoba team had played to a 4-4 draw with Balmoral Hall, which is a prestigious girls' school in Winnipeg that attracts some of the best teenage hockey players in Western Canada.

Manitoba also won its four other exhibition matches against clubs from a junior women's hockey league in its province.

Then, at the NAHC, Symchuk's team was unbeatable. It was able to celebrate a 'W', after all six of its games.

But Manitoba had to post a comeback win in the gold-medal match. Ontario South held a 4-2 lead going into the third period.

Symchuk said he gave his players a brief speech during the second intermission.

"I went into the dressing room and said I have a lot of confidence in you girls and I really feel that you're going to win this game," Symchuk said.

He then left the room and allowed the girls to talk among themselves and figure out how badly they wanted the match.

As their third-period play indicated, members of the Manitoba squad obviously were keen on finishing the tournament on a high.

Four unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes for Manitoba resulted in the gold medal.

Manitoba got the ball rolling with a goal in the opening minute of the third period.

"Then it was like the floodgates just starting opening up," Symchuk said. "We kept the puck in their zone for almost the whole period."

By Sam Laskaris

Windspeaker Contributor
COPYRIGHT 2009 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:WINNIPEG; National Aboriginal Hockey Championships
Author:Laskaris, Sam
Publication:Windspeaker
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2009
Words:857
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