The Whistler Winterhawks bantam C team came home from Vancouver Island with gold medals around their necks, and a little extra knowledge of Remembrance Day's significance as well.
In the Bantam House Invitational Tournament in Lake Cowichan, the Winterhawks stormed to a perfect 4-0 record, regularly posting 50 or more shots and toppling Ridge Meadows 4-1 in the final to win gold on Nov. 10.
Head coach Kevin Sopp said that while the Winterhawks fell behind in a couple of the games, including the final, they didn't let playing from behind faze them. Whistler allowed just two goals in the entire tournament.
"We were down 1-0 early and the boys never wavered, never changed course. We were really consistent from the first time we got on the ice to when we finished the whole thing off," Sopp said.
While the team has picked up just three losses in league play so far this season, Sopp said there are still some elements of the game that they could tighten up. He hopes the bonding experience of the out-of-town weekend tournament against unfamiliar competition gives the team a sense of what it's capable of.
"The guys are together for three days straight, playing four games in two-and-a-half days," he said. "Being away from all their friends, being away from Whistler, being in the hotel together and hanging out, eating dinner together, it brings everyone together."
The hope, Sopp noted, is that now that the squad has a taste for big victories, it will start to become habit as the season wears on.
"It sets the tone for the rest of the year. We've got the kids in a situation where they see what they can do and see what the results are, and see how much fun it is to move the puck and score goals, and defend strong and have everyone be a winner," he said. "The bar is set for all the games from now on. Getting away, setting that bar, proving you can do it is key."
Being Remembrance Day weekend, there wasn't just hockey on tap as the Winterhawks incorporated some recognition of the holiday during a break in action.
"The day of the second game, I asked the kids, 'What is this weekend about?'" Sopp said. "Not everyone knew why it was a long weekend or what was happening, so I took it upon myself to say it was a pretty important weekend."
Sopp said the team went and purchased a bouquet of flowers, then headed to the Lake Cowichan cenotaph to pass along the message of why Remembrance Day is held at this time of year.
"We have to remember the people that gave us the ability to play hockey and the ability to go on family vacations, and the ability to go biking and skiing and snowboarding," he said.
Sopp recalled one player was struck by the length of the First and Second World Wars, how they extended half-a-decade and beyond.
When he left town after the tournament, Sopp drove by the cenotaph again, and found that the flowers were still in place.