Its been quite a first season for the Whistler Winterhawks Bantam Girls Hockey Team. After being blown out 22-0 and 18-1 in their first two Pacific Coast Division games the team has been relegated to the Tier 3 category where things are looking up. They have a win and a couple of ties to their credit heading into the play-offs, and according to coaches they are starting to come together as a team.
The icing on the cake took place on Tuesday, when the team headed to GM Place for an hour and a half practice under the eyes of the Vancouver Canucks coaching staff. Out of 217 entries, the Whistler girls won the B.C. Amateur Hockey Associations Penalty-Free Challenge, after submitting a game sheet from B.C. Minor Hockey Week, Jan. 16-23.
"I think it will bring us together as a team," said Bill Murray, president of the Whistler Minor Hockey Association and a coach for the womens team. "Weve gelled pretty well anyway, but well be trying to pick up some coaching tips from the Canucks coaches down there. I know the girls are excited, and it will give us a little boost when the playoffs start next week."
The girls bantam team is only in its second year. The team spent its first season, 2003-04 at practice, learning skills and training a goalie.
They entered the Pacific Coast Divisions girls bantam league this year. After losing their first games they were relegated to tier three, where the games have been a lot closer.
"Once they were in their proper tier, the team has really started to be competitive. Theyve won one, tied a couple and most of their games have been pretty close. Weve had to bring along a new goalie whod never played that position before, and shes developed beautifully," said Murray.
Although the teams organizers were nervous about putting the girls into league play so soon after learning the sport, all of their worries disappeared when they scored their first goal in an 18-1 loss.
"After that first goal they got they were just in a frenzy, they were so happy," said Kim Martin, the Atom League Manager and a mother of one of the players. "I think when you lose by that much, it really brings you together, and I think it really motivated them as well. Since then theyve really put their heads down, theyre showing up to practices. Theyre passing well, theyre playing well, and we couldnt be more proud of them.
"Thats why we were so excited to win this award. I really feel they deserve it for the way theyve committed themselves to the team and each other."
Murray said the team is still looking for more participants. The age of players ranges from 11 to 16, while bantam is usually geared to kids aged 13-15. They had to get two league exemptions to let the older players go down a level, and promote younger players ahead of their time. With more participants, the team will be able to field teams in one or more age groups without promoting or exempting players.
"This is really a new program for us. Weve had girls before, but theyve been placed on the boys teams," said Murray. "There were girls out there that didnt want to do that and this team was really created for them. Were doing well to field a team after two years, but wed like to see it grow to the point where we can have at least two teams."