The Whistler Secondary School (WSS) hockey team had a target on its back entering the 2017-18 BC High School Hockey League Tier 3 season as the defending champions.
But the Mennonite Educational Institute Eagles' return from Tier 2 offset the focus, at least a bit. The 2015 champions turned out to be WSS' major obstacle, but in the championship game, Whistler came away with a 4-2 victory to keep the banner in the resort.
"They came at us really hard and the boys and girls rose to the occasion. We were able to come out with the win," head coach Scott Patterson said.
MEI also had knocked WSS out of the playoffs in 2016.
"We were the defending champions, but we were going in, really, as underdogs," Patterson said. "One of the things that they had going for them is their high-school hockey team is part of their curriculum, so they've been practising and preparing for the eventuality of this game for some time. We're a ragtag collection of kids that came together with different skill levels but really like to play with their friends and for their school.
"We had some really great performances from several different players in different games. We always had someone rise to the occasion."
Patterson said several of the teams Whistler dispatched on the road to the title last season were eager for revenge, but it never ended up working out for them.
"Churchill was familiar with us. West Van was obviously familiar with us, as well. Right out of the gate in the regular season, we had some pretty close matches. They were looking forward to getting a piece of us in the playoffs," Patterson said.
After Whistler defeated Delta's Sands Secondary 6-0 in the opening round, Churchill had its chance to come at the king in the semifinal. It was an unsuccessful coup; Whistler thumped the Bulldogs 9-1.
"It turned out to be our best team game of the season. We completely dominated them from the puck drop to the final buzzer. It was really something to watch," Patterson said. "At the beginning of the season, you have a collection of individuals trying to do it on their own, and when you come up against a team that's well organized, it can be hard to overcome that. They really came a long way in their play and it was great to see that improvement."
With a number of young Grade 10 players making significant contributions this season, the squad seems well positioned to be competitive in coming years. However, Patterson won't be part of it as he is getting set to step down from the helm as his son Ryan is among this year's graduates.
"It was the last year for my son and I to be in hockey together. It was a long season. There was a lot of hockey, and going out on a high note with the BC High School Hockey League was really nice," he said.