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Saskatchewan boys land national hockey title.

OTTAWA

For the third straight year an Aboriginal boys' hockey team from Saskatchewan won a national title.

The Saskatchewan team captured its latest crown on May 8 with a convincing 8-1 win over Manitoba in the gold-medal contest at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championship (NAHC), which was held in Ottawa.

As for the Saskatchewan girls' team, it just missed out on capturing some hardware. The team was downed 8-3 by Ontario South in its bronze-medal game. Manitoba won the girls' title, edging Ontario North 2-1 in the championship final.

This year's NAHC attracted 18 clubs-ten in the boys' division and eight in the girls' category.

The tournament, which has been held annually since 1992, primarily featured players 18 and under. But the girls' teams were allowed to carry a maximum of five over-age (19- and 20-year-olds) players on their rosters.

Courage Bear, who served as the manager for both of Saskatchewan's entries, offered his thoughts on why the boys' team has become a dynasty at the NAHC. "We've spent a lot of time and we've spent a lot of money to make the program good," he said. "We have good leadership support. We have good corporate support. And we have good players."

The Saskatchewan boys' roster this season included four players who were also gold medallists at the 2009 NAHC. And Saskatchewan's line-up featured just two players-right winger Bret Lafond and defenceman Kolton Baptiste-who have won gold medals at the tourney in each of the past three years.

"We have good kids, I guess," added Bear, who was also a coach for the Saskatchewan boys' team. "A lot of them play competitive hockey. The majority of them are AAA (the highest calibre in youth hockey) players."

The Saskatchewan team also included one player, forward Justin Waskewitch, who plays at the Junior A level with the Estevan Bruins. Waskewitch was named the most outstanding player at the NAHC as he collected 12 points, including eight goals, in seven games.

The Saskatchewan side was undefeated in its seven tournament matches, posting six wins and a tie. Saskatchewan began the event with a 7-4 win over Manitoba. The squad then followed this up with a pair of convincing wins, 11-1 over Nova Scotia and 10-2 against New Brunswick. In its final round-robin match, Saskatchewan settled for a 3-3 tie against Alberta. Saskatchewan then had three dominating performances in its playoff contests.

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For starters, it thumped Nunavut 11-3. And it earned its berth in the championship final by defeating Ontario North 7-3 in its semi-final match. Bear wasn't anticipating a lopsided victory in the gold-medal game.

"The pucks just went into the net for us," he said. "And our goalie made some key saves." Saskatchewan's netminder Garret Kazmiruk was named to the tournament all-star team for being the top goalie. Another Saskatchewan player, centre Bryce Gervais, was also a tournament all-star.

Meanwhile, Hillary Lerat, who plays defence, was the only player from the Saskatchewan girls' team to make the all-star team. Lerat and her teammates started off the tournament with a pair of convincing victories, 11-1 over the North West Territories and 9-3 over Alberta. The club, however, was blanked 5-0 by Manitoba in its final round-robin game.

Saskatchewan though rebounded from that setback and edged the Quebec-based club called Eastern Door and The North 7-6 in its quarter-final match. Saskatchewan was then dumped 7-1 by Manitoba in its semi-final contest. Manitoba went on to win the gold medal, edging Ontario North 2-1 in its championship final. Saskatchewan had a rather youthful side, with about a half dozen bantams and several other first-year midgets.

"I can't say enough good things about them," Bear said. "They competed well. And they were a win away from making the final."

BY SAM LASKARIS

Sage Writer
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Author:Laskaris, Sam
Publication:Saskatechewan Sage
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2010
Words:632
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