The back wall at Meadow Park arena has been filling in nicely over the years as local hockey teams top leagues and win titles, but next week the collection will grow in another way the Whistler PeeWee Winterhawks proudly add a provincial championship to the collection — a first for the community.
The team won three banners in total this year, winning the regular season and playoffs before heading to Quesnel for the provincial Tier 3 tournament on March 19.
The team went undefeated in six games at the provincials. The only close game was close was the final, where Whistler took the win 1-0 against Vanderhoof — a club that has knocked Whistler out of contention for the provincial title at least twice in team history.
Head coach Greg Welsh said the team came into the league with high expectations this year and they turned out to be entirely justified.
"At the start of the year I made that our goal, to win the provincials," he said. "I told the kids that, I told the parents that, and we worked the whole year to do it because I felt we had the team for it. They're a really skilled, determined and coachable team, and I knew they had a shot at it."
The team lost just three games in the regular season, outscoring their opponents 86 to 26, then won both playoff games.
Winning was a nice change for the players who struggled the previous year.
The '99 (age group) last year got into a pretty high flight and had a really hard year," said Welsh. "They only won two games last year, and this year we were in Flight 3 once again and just ran the table.
"I really think the kids started to believe when this year they beat the top team from Vancouver Minor Hockey, and North Vancouver Minor, and Cloverdale Minor, and North Delta Minor and Port Moody and Port Coquitlam — large centres with well-established hockey programs. It was quite an accomplishment to be at that high of a flight with 10,000 people in this town — to be beating these teams was really remarkable."
Whistler was playing in Tier 3 because of the size of the association, but could have played higher. For example, said Welsh, early in the season they beat the team that lost in the finals of the Tier 2 provincials.
Welsh said every player contributed. The team's Most Dedicated Player award was shared between the Warm brothers, goalie Beck and defenceman Will. Most Sportsmanlike was Scott Coughlin. Most Improved was Noah Brusse.
"(Beck) Warm had two shutouts including the finals, including one against probably the toughest team in the round robin against Quesnel. And Will (Warm) was just fantastic, without a doubt the best defenceman in the tournament."
Welsh also gave high marks to the play of Finn Iles, who won both slalom and giant slalom titles on the weekend before the tournament and missed the ski cross to play in the tournament. "He's a double provincial champion," said Welsh. "He really made a difference for us and we're happy he came — it might have been what tipped the scales for us.
"Jackson Leppard played extremely well for us, and Nolan Welsh (Greg's son) was probably the best player in the tournament — I know I can't say that because he's my son, but he played fantastic and we were all really proud of him."
Other players on the team include Xavier Cadoret, Matt Davis, Cody Flann, Ethan Gottschalk, Noah Malthaner, Owen Reith, Tristan Sanders and Finn Withey. The coaches were Dan Davis, Ian Reith, Wayne Coughlin and Wendi Warm was team manager.
Welsh said it would be tough to replicate the team's success next year. A few key players are leaving Whistler and moving to Vancouver, while the older kids will be moving up to Bantam.
"This will probably be a one-shot for this group of guys but you never know," said Welsh.
The Whistler Bantam Tier 3 team placed third in the provincials this year with a record of 5-2, losing in the semi-finals to a team that went on to win the title.