A high-firing offence and a resilient attitude propelled the Edge School's U18 prep boys' hockey team to a Canadian Sports School Hockey League (CSSHL) championship on March 19 in Penticton, B.C.
After five days of competition in the sunny Okanagan, the Edge Mountaineers beat the Rink Hockey Academy of Kelowna 3-1 in the league's gold-medal game, capping off a stellar season that also saw the Springbank-based private school squad finish first in the CSSHL's regular-season standings.
Head coach James Poole said his players knew if they played the way they were capable of in Penticton that they had a solid shot of bringing the banner back to hang from the Edge School rafters. Considering some of the players had been on the same U18 team that lost in the league's gold-medal game last year, he added the team went into the gold-medal game with an “unfinished business” mindset.
“I look back at the previous year, we went in with similar hopes and then lost in the final,” Poole said. “A number of our teams came close the previous year and a lot of the kids on those teams that came up short were motivated to finish the deal this year.
“I think it was a pretty satisfying feeling for our team that we were able to come out with a banner and finish off a good season with a championship.”
The Mountaineers only lost one of their five games during the CSSHL's playoff tournament, which is held in Penticton every March. The squad's only setback came in their second post-season game, when they lost in overtime to the same Rink team they'd beat in the final a few days later.
The day before that minor setback, the Edge had started the playoffs with an exclamation point, hammering the OHA Edmonton 11-1 on March 14.
“Our whole team was clicking,” Poole said. “The next day, we lost in overtime, but knew that all it did was set us up for the quarterfinals. We had a great quarterfinal game and played a solid 60-minute effort.”
According to Poole, Edge's toughest task of the post-season tournament was likely their semi-final against the Yale Hockey Academy, out of Abbotsford, B.C. Despite taking a 3-1 lead, The Mountaineers conceded four goals on the trot, and found themselves down 5-3 with just seven minutes left of the third period.
But an inspired last burst of offence was enough for the Edge to score two unanswered goals to tie it up, before Fraser Leonard scored in overtime to seal the victory, thus booking the Mountaineers a berth in the next day's gold-medal game.
“It looked bleak at times, but we scored some big goals from our blue line and then we were able to win it in overtime,” Poole said. “It was a pretty emotional win for us.”
With the gold-medal game setting up a rematch against the Rink squad from Kelowna, Poole said the pre-game conversations were about “hitting the reset button” and making sure the team went into the final with the same mentality they had during the semis.
“Thankfully, we controlled the game and did a great job defensively on our penalty kill, not giving up much,” he said. “Although our power play was awful in that final game, we ended up being able to score enough to get us across the finish line.
“Obviously, it was a big moment for our kids to finish it off.”
A league championship was a fitting way for the team to cap off a strong overall campaign. In addition to their success in the playoffs, the Edge also finished first in the regular season with a 26-4-1-2-1 record.
Poole said the Edge U18 prep team's strength this season was the squad's depth and versatility, adding the whole roster of players and every line contributed to the team's overall success.
“I think over the year, we just had contributions up and down our line-up,” he said. “Certain players stood out – Terik Parascak was up near the scoring leaders all year long – but throughout the year, we’d have the odd injury or a number of players who played up for WHL teams.
“No matter who was out of the line-up, we always had a player raise their game. We just had that mentality that we’d find a way to win. Whether it was our power play being really good one day or our goaltending, we’d shut other teams down and find a way to win. In the playoffs, it was very similar.”
The Edge was, by some distance, the highest scoring team in the CSSHL this season, firing home 182 goals in their 34 regular-season fixtures (an average of more than five per game) and 31 goals in their five playoff games.
Poole agreed Edge's scoring abilities were a strength of the U18 prep team this year.
“We certainly weren’t trying to play run-and-gun, but I think when we were clicking, we had a number of lines and players who could contribute offensively,” he said. “Opposition couldn’t just shut down one line. We had a number of different players and lines who could score. That showed throughout the season. We were able to consistently score four, five, six, seven goals a night, which made it tough for teams to play against us.”
This year's U18 prep team is graduating seven players – all of whom will likely make the step up to either the Western Hockey League or the Alberta Junior Hockey League next season, Poole said. He added of the 21 players on the team, virtually all will be making that transition at some point.
“It’s one thing we pride ourselves on – being able to graduate players to the next level,” he said. “Now the job is about making sure we get people to the level they want to play at next year.”