‘Paking’ for Atlantics

Matt Molloy
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Central IcePak advance to Atlantics following provincial win

The Central Female Midget IcePak will represent the province at the 2014 Midget AAA Female Atlantic Hockey Championships. 

LOCAL SERVING — (from left) Elena King, Melissa Mercer, Keesha John and Leah Pritchett helped guide the Central IcePak to a provincial win, which earned the team the right to represent the province at the upcoming Atlantic tournament in Deer Lake. 

The IcePak earned that right by defeating Western 4-2 in the AAA female provincial final on Feb. 23 in Springdale.

For Gander’s Elena King, the moment of claiming provincial glory was pretty surreal.

She’s a rookie when it comes to midget AAA hockey, so to win a provincial title in her first year as a member of the IcePak is something she’ll cherish long after her minor hockey days are over.

“It’s my first year on the team, and it’s the first year I tried out,” said King. “I can’t even describe the feeling of winning provincials. It’s pretty good to go through the tournament undefeated and go on to win the championship in the end.”

Central defeated Eastern in its opening game 5-3, and followed that up with a 3-2 win over Western. The team completed its perfect round robin with a 2-0 win over Tri-Pen, before beating Western in the final.

“That game was really stressful,” said winning goalie Melissa Mercer with a laugh. “It was 2-2 going into the third, so it was pretty stressful going back and forth. About halfway through the third, we scored twice to go ahead 4-2 to pick up the win.”

“Being a vocal goalie, it was hard trying to yell over such a large group of people,” added Mercer with a laugh.

“The whole stadium was packed,” added King. “The atmosphere was awesome.”

The IcePak outscored the opposition 10-5 over three round-robin games, and 14-7 overall.

King said the team’s coaching staff implements different strategies depending on the opposition, and that seems to help the team put pucks in the back of the net.

Mercer added the players are also vigilant on the bench, and looks for tendencies in the opposing goalies and opposing defence lines.

“We pay attention to the way the goalie on the opposing team is playing, and we use that information as best as we can,” said Mercer.

“I think our team came together great and were able to connect with one another,” added IcePak player Keesha John, from Appleton. “Everyone got along, which I think really helped with the games. We all got used to each others’ playing skills and were able to play well with the other players.”

Along with filling the net with goals, the IcePak also played strong defensively. The team allowed just seven goals over four games.

Defence wins championships, as they say, and the team’s coaching staff preached that philosophy to the girls throughout the provincial tournament.

“The coach’s motto really is defence first,” said Mercer. “Basically, we really focus on what have to work on in the defensive zone and the neutral zone, and work our way up from there.”

“Our team did very well defensively,” added John. “The back-checking our team did all weekend was outstanding. The goaltenders stood on their heads big time. They were phenomenal.”

The girls also had more time to refine their skills this year. In past seasons, there was just one tournament — provincials.

This year, however, the team competed in two warm-up tournaments before heading to Springdale, and the extra ice time seemed to pay off.

“It was more expanded this year with the warm-up tournaments we had,” said Mercer of the AAA season. “Usually, it’s just the one provincial tournament to see who qualifies for Atlantics. This year, we had two warm-up tournaments before we went to provincials. We went undefeated in the first tournament, and lost one game in the second, but we still went on to win the championship.”

The IcePak will now prepare for Atlantics, which will take place in Deer Lake, April 3-6. The winner of that tournament will qualify for the National Midget AAA Female Championship (ESSO Cup), which takes place in Hamilton, Ont., April 20-27.

“Being able to go to Atlantics is an amazing experience for us all. I know we’re able to do well with the team we have,” said John. “We definitely have to pick up our game because the teams will be a lot stronger, but I know if we go in with confidence we’ll be fine. We have an incredible team and we’re expecting some good hockey out there. It’s going be hard, but if we play like we can we should do fine.”

“The players on our team are pretty even, and we all bring different skills that come into play,” said King. “We know how to use our skills and how to bring each other up when we’re down.”

Glovertown’s Leah Pritchett also competed for the IcePak, but couldn’t be reached for comment. 

Organizations: ESSO

Geographic location: Springdale, Deer Lake, Hamilton

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