No. 1 Spotlight: Canada Tier 2 Girls
By Scott Lowe – MyHockeyRankings.com
We continue with our series of spotlight articles on teams from around North America that finished No. 1 in our final 2019-20 rankings. This week we take a look at the top-ranked Tier 2 girls teams in Canada:
Kitchener Lady Rangers Intermediate A (31-5-6)
The 2018-19 season ended on a bitter note for the Kitchener girls Intermediate A team as the Lady Rangers suffered a 2-0 loss to the Saugeen-Maitland Lightning in the Ontario provincial championship game.
For Saugeen it was a three-peat, and for Kitchener it was wait till next year.
Despite having several core players move on from the program and bringing in a new coaching staff, including head coach Jamie Dinsmore, the goal from the Day 1 of the 2019-20 season was to avenge that title-game loss.
The Rangers appeared to be on track to do just that, posting a 31-5-6 record and earning the No. 1 ranking in all of Canada, according to MYHockey Rankings, after a pair of victories over the seventh-ranked St. Catharines Bock Jr. Badgers March 6-7 in the Lower Lakes Female Hockey League Playoffs.
Unlike last year, Kitchener’s 2019-20 season would end with a victory, but that wouldn’t erase the memory of the previous spring. Those wins, which should have sent them to LLFHL Championship Weekend, would be their last games of their season.
This year it would be COVID-19 that ended the Lady Rangers’ journey. For a team made up mostly of players in college between the ages of 18 and 21, the shutdown likely brought several players’ careers to an abrupt end.
“Obviously, there was disappointment in not being able to compete in league championship weekend and in provincial championships,” Dinsmore said. “However, I think the true disappointment was the feeling of abruptly losing our Lady Ranger family that had developed through the season."
That family came together despite fielding a roster of players from many different areas and welcoming several new players – along with the new coaching staff. This season Kitchener’s roster featured players who came from an NCAA Division III college, two Intermediate AA teams and graduates of Midget AA programs in Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Guelph, Stoney Creek, Scarborough and Peterborough.
“We definitely had something to prove this season,” team captain Tori Waite said. “We were on track to do something really amazing. I think as a team we worked really hard to come together, and the momentum we had by March was unreal. Every game we showed up to win, and every game was a step on the path to provincial gold. It’s a really tough way to end such a fantastic season. I’m so lucky to have been a part of this team, and my heart goes out to our seniors who have to finish up their Intermediate careers like this. While I’m very grateful to be home and healthy during this time, I miss hockey. I miss my Kitchener family."
Canada does not hold national championships at the Tier 2 level, so the league and provincial tournaments take on added importance.
"This season's team may not have been as tight-knit as last year's squad at the start, and we lost some key components, but our talent was even deeper and we were really coming together,” associate head coach and general manager Ted Martin said. “The returning players stepped it up a notch, and we added some incredible first-year talent. We had six defensemen and ten forwards who could play in any situation and the two best goaltenders in the circuit. I've been coaching for over 20 years, in the past – win or lose – we've always been able to have a group hug, say goodbye, and put closure to the season. This year that hasn't happened; it just fizzled out."
The team was in the midst of a controlled scrimmage vs. the Kitchener Midget AA team on March 12 when it found out that Hockey Canada had shut down the season across the nation. At that point the group remained hopeful that it would still be able to finish the season. Martin described the goodbyes that day as “more like see you later.”
But as the dates for what should have been the provincial championships approached, it became clear that the season likely was over. The team kept in touch after that, sharing throwback hockey photos of one another and trying to guess who each player was. They just wanted to maintain contact and not let the season end.
“I remember being at a Thursday night scrimmage, then at the end of practice our coaches telling us this is then end of our season and Hockey Canada says we can't come together anymore for the time being,” captain Ashley Armstrong said. “For all the hard work, time, money and energy spent into achieving our season goal to turn out the way it did was heart-breaking for most of the players, especially the graduating ones like me. My hope is for the girls who play next year that they can finally finish what our team set out to do and enjoy the process it takes."
Martin added: “It just seems wrong to have the season end without a formal farewell, especially for our graduating players.”
Despite the abrupt ending and a late-January “lapse” in which they went 8-2-2 to lose their grip on first place in the LLHFL West to the second-ranked Guelph Gryphons, it was an unforgettable season for the Lady Rangers. They won two tournaments, beating Guelph and avenging the provincial championship-game loss with an overtime win against No. 6 Saugeen-Maitland to claim the Cambridge Tournament title in January.
Maybe they didn’t get to beat the Lightning in the game that mattered most, but the Rangers have to take solace in having beaten them in five of six meetings this year. Kitchener outscored its opponents, 151-33, for the season and by a 70-18 margin in 22 league contests. The Lady Rangers surrendered 0.79 goals per game overall and 0.81 in LLFHL play, with their goaltending tandem of Alexa Fisher and Taya Beacom alternating games and combining to record 22 shutouts while stopping 95 percent of the shots they faced.
"I think a big contributing factor to our team's success this year has been the collaboration between the players and the coaches,” Dinsmore saidl. “From the very beginning, the girls had a clear view of their goal, and they were determined to achieve it. This showed in every single game."
Offensively, the team was paceed by Armstrong, who led the team in scoring three straight years after coming over from Peterborough, with Caitlyn Krasinski finishing second in the scoring race. The stout defensive corps was highlighted by Waite, who recorded 28 points and was plus-39 as well as assistant captains Hunter Lee and Clara Lochner. Lee was the only player to appear in every game, and Lochner battled through a shoulder injury to be a top shutdown defender.
“All 18 players contributed to our success,” Martin said.
Assistant coach Kevin Lee added: "Had we played and lost, you can analyze, you can figure out what went wrong, you can agree they were better, you can blame the ref. If you win, you celebrate, you feel all that hard work and decisions you made were correct. Either way, you have an end. You hug your players. You shake the hands of the other team and their coaches. You cherish the memories. This year, we didn't get any of that.”
Well, they didn’t get closure, but Lady Rangers did make plenty of memories. Maybe the one memory they wanted most to make didn’t happen, but their season and the bond they formed certainly will be unforgettable.
“Our coach arranged an exhibition on the Thursday night, which was not our usual time slot,” Hunter Lee, assistant coach Kevn Lee’s daughter, said. “I had commitments, but went for the first two periods. Dad and I left between periods, and I casually said goodbye to everyone, thinking I would see them at our next ice time. That's the last that I have seen most of the girls. As we drove home I was getting messages from the team about the end of the season and then eventually the manager's email to confirm it all. I cried. I didn’t get to play. I didn't get to say goodbye.”
Congratulations to the players and coaches of the Kitchener Lady Rangers Intermediate A team on an amazing season and earning our No. 1 ranking:
Defense - Tori Waite, Hunter Lee, Clara Lochner, Nicole Crosthwaite, Alyssa Eckert, Hannah Aitchison
Forwards - Ashley Armstrong, Kristen Straus, Caitlyn Krasinski, Megan Thring, Megan Chapman, Sophie Schmidt, Keegan Camp, Olvia Bolender, Caitlyn Dias, Gracen Mahoney
Goalies – Taya Beacom, Alexa Fisher
Stoney Creek Sabres PeeWee A (60-4-4)
Is it possible to win 60 out of 68 games while averaging over four goals per game, surrendering less than half a goal per contest and earning Canada’s No. 1 ranking in your age group and still be disappointed?
Well, that’s hockey for you in 2020, and for the Stoney Creek Sabres PeeWees the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
For the Sabres, the abrupt ending to their season brought on by COVID-19 was disappointing, but that didn’t make the season any less memorable.
Stoney Creek won four of the five tournaments it played in this season, taking a silver medal in the one it didn’t win, and earned victories against Canada’s Nos. 3, 5 and 6 teams as well as the United States’ top-ranked team along the way. They captured the Brantford, Ontario, Walter Gretzky Tournament without surrendering a single goal.
Oh, there also was a 26-game unbeaten streak and a first-place finish in the Lower Lakes Female Hockey League regular-season standings. The Sabres also qualified for the provincial championship tournament. One point via a tie in Stoney Creek’s next scheduled outing against the No. 3 Niagara Falls Rapids would have advanced the Sabres to LLFHL Championship Weekend.
Unfortunately, that game would never happen thanks to COVID-19. Their 1-0 victory against the Rapids March 8 would be their final game of the 2019-20 season.
“I wish we could just play that one last game against Niagara,” forward Maren Holt said. “We had worked so hard all season, and all we needed was that one win. They had given us trouble in the season, but we had gone ahead in the series. We felt we were the stronger team and wanted to prove that to ourselves and Niagara.”
Forward Charlotte Brewster also was disappointed.
“When the season was cut short, our team was so devastated because we couldn’t finish playoffs and see how we did in OWHA’s and Lower Lakes. It was the first time for some of the girls on the team to go to these championships, and we really wanted to win for them. But we were also devastated when the season was cancelled because it meant that we could no longer get to see our best friends anymore.”
Among the team’s other accomplishments were an astounding 40 shutouts recorded by the goaltending duo of Grier Cooper and Logan Muldoon.
“In order to post 40 shutouts, you need solid goaltending, but you also need 15 skaters who work hard at both ends of the ice,” head coach Andrew Clark said. “It didn’t matter if we were down a goal, tied, or up a goal, the girls didn’t stop working. They took pride in playing for each other, and it was such a pleasure to coach them.”
One of the challenges of coaching youth hockey is the player turnover. From year to year, with players graduating to the next age group, younger players moving up, players leaving to play for other programs and players transferring in from outside clubs, coaches find themselves having to figure out where a lot of new pieces fit while helping team members get to know each other on and off the ice and develop team chemistry. It’s almost like starting from scratch each season.
“We had a talented group of individual players, but many had never played together before,” Clark said. “We were so impressed with how quickly they came together to become a team. Our captains, who were selected by the players, were great role models, and they helped develop our work ethic and team culture, which only got stronger as the season went on. We had the luxury of having a team of 17 great hockey players. At practice they competed hard in small-area games, and we strived to keep it fun for them. I looked forward to being on the ice with them at practice, and watching them compete in every game.”
Holt agreed with her coach.
“Our team was pretty scattered before – not a lot of us had played together – but I could tell from the first game against Niagara that we were going to be a good team.”
A championship at the Oakville Tournament in September capped a 9-0 start for Stoney Creek and propelled the Sabres to the No. 1 ranking that they would essentially hold on to for the rest of the season. They would extend that winning streak to 18 games before falling to Niagra Falls, 2-1, in the finals of the Etobicoke Tournament Oct. 20. That loss was followed by the 26-game unbeaten streak before another loss to the Rapids, this time by a 1-0 score, Jan. 9.
“After winning the Oakville tournament and getting the No. 1 ranking from MyHockey Rankings, we knew we would have a target on our backs all year,” Clark said. “Our opponents always got up to play against us, and we used that to help stay motivated the entire season. Even in our losses we still outshot our opponents, but you can only control your effort, not the outcome.”
As the postseason neared and the games took on added importance, Stoney Creek ramped up its play. The Sabres won the Brantford Tournament without allowing a goal, outscoring opponents 17-0 in five contests, Feb. 21-23 before earning a berth in the provincial championships with victories over No. 18 Ancaster and top-rival Niagara Falls Feb. 27 and March 4, respectively.
From there the Sabres swept their opening-round LLFHL Playoff series with three wins over Oakville before tying and beating Niagara Falls in the first two games of the next round with a trip to Championship Weekend on the line.
The team found out that it’s season was being put on hold after a practice leading up to the playoff game vs. Rapids.
“The whole team was devastated,” Holt said. “We had just had a practice that night and none of us knew that was going to be the last time we would see each other for a really long time, not to mention play together as a group ever again. It was so bizarre going from seeing people three, four, five times a week to nothing at all.”
In adverse situations it’s the responsibility of the adults to help young players see the big picture, understand the gravity of the situation and use it as a learning and growth experience. In youth hockey this year, from a team perspective, that difficult job fell primarily on coaches who were just as invested in their team’s seasons to find a way to keep their emotions in check while guiding the players.
One reason that coaches become coaches is because that competitive desire still burns, so to see a potentially memorable season halted by outside forces can be just as devastating to them as it is to the kids. Clark said his Stoney Creek group was able to look back on the process and appreciate what it had accomplished.
“It is hard to describe how disappointing and crushing it was to hear the news that the remainder of the season would be cancelled,” he said. “One thing we had focused on this season was controlling the things you can control, and not worrying about things that were out of our control. Obviously, we had no control over the way our season ended. Even now when we look back at what could have been for this team, it still hurts. However, I was so impressed with how the girls were able to come together and support each other. They were able to help deal with their disappointment and still take all the positives from this phenomenal season.
Perhaps Brewster summed it up best for the Sabres when she said, “Best friends make best teammates.”
No virus can take away the experience, memories or friendships created by the Stoney Creek PeeWees during the 2019-20 season.
Congratulations on a great year to all the players:
Defense – Cayleigh Bowes, Caileigh Drong, Anisha Ghosh, Hailey Hardy, Aubrey Lagroterria, Brynn Sartor
Forwards – Charlotte Brewster, Trinity Clark, Samantha Greene, Maren Holt, Chloe Hutton, Aly Pescetti, Aubrey Sartor, Sofia Starr, Sydney Swick
Goalies – Grier Cooper, Logan Muldoon
Coaches – Andrew Clark, Corey Bowes, Brian Pescetti, Brandon Sartor, Mike Starr
Whitby Wolves Bantam A (49-6-3)
When the Whitby Wolves Bantam A team got together for a preseason meeting in August, the players and coaches came up with their team’s motto for the season: BELIEVE, COMMIT, IMPROVE. At that point, no on cold have guessed that a group comprised of more than 50 percent first-year bantams would soar to the heights that Whitby did during the 2019-20 campaign.
The Wolves lost just six of their 58 games, winning 49 times. They began the year with a 13-game unbeaten streak then compiled a 17-3-2 league record to capture the regular-season championship in the Lower Lakes Female Hockey League East Division. Whitby also earned berths in LLFHL Championship Weekend and the Ontario provincial championship tournament.
Whitby won a tournament in Rochester, N.Y., in early November by going 6-0, with four of the wins decided by a single goal. The Wolves knocked off a longtime-nemesis, second-ranked Nepean, as well as four of the top-five U.S. teams – including the No. 1 East Coast Wizards – in Rochester. In the win against the Wizards, Whitby killed off two 5-on-3 power plays in the third period. The Wolves also would go on to win their own tournament in Whitby as well as the Nepean Paint It Pink Tournament.
All of that allowed them to finish the abbreviated 2019-20 campaign as the top-ranked Tier 2 team in Canada, according to MYHockeyRankings. It all started at that fateful August meeting, said head coach Steve Donegan, who also serves as the Director of Coach and Player Development for the Wolves’ program.
“Both staff and players established a culture and a credo to adhere to,” he said. It was decided that we would never be outworked, and we would believe in and push each other throughout the year, no matter our success.”
Unfortunately, Whitby wouldn’t be able to continue its journey any further as a result of a nationwide hockey shutdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
From here, we wanted to take a little different path and let the players and coaches tell the story of the Wolves’ season in their own words:
Head Coach Steve Donegan:
The comments by the girls will attest to what made use successful. We were a TEAM. No one person was bigger or more important than another. The girls made practices their biggest competition, and challenged each other each time they hit the ice.
Goalie Coach Tom Harry:
The team worked so hard on and off the ice with determination and spirit. Their commitment and dedication was strong from the beginning and grew during the course of the year. The girls usually only had 1 day off a week from a hockey event; between games, practices, TEAM 12 training and yoga they built up the physical and mental parts part of the game. The girls played off of each other’s strengths, and they won and lost as a team. Although the season was cut short, we will always remember what a great team, staff and the fun we had together. We’re so proud of the team and their accomplishments; they deserved everything they worked so hard for.
Assistant Coach Chris Mailhot:
The team, from the players to the coaching staff, everyone was all-in and fully committed to hockey and development.
Forward Julia Boese:
Our team worked hard 24/7. This year, on and off the ice, our team was a family who stuck together and got along very well. Everyone gave her best and contributed to the on-ice results. Our off-ice activities and fun, happy memories gave our on-ice time power and strength. Hearing that our year was cut short was truly devastating, knowing we could have won it all and had an amazing opportunity to experience showing everyone what we are capable of.
Goalie Laura Harry:
My team made everything fun and enjoyable. I personally had so many laughs with this team, and everyone was kind and very supportive of each other. My coaches were also very supportive of each player, and they made me feel appreciated throughout the whole season. Losing our first (league) game, not only did we learn from it, but it also shows how much we worked to improve – and that led to all of our success throughout the rest of the season. The ending of this season was very devastating for many of us. For me, I was disappointed that our season had to end like this because I had faith in our team that we could have won with all of the talent and effort we put into each game.
Forward Grace Warner:
I would describe our team in one word as determined – a group of girls that never gave up and always found a way to work together to accomplish our goals as a team. I have many memorable moments from this year, but the main one, of course, is winning gold medals in all but one of the tournaments we played in. My favorite tournament moment happened in Rochester, N.Y, not because we won gold, but because of how we all came together as a team to win after killing two penalties against a top team. What I will take out of his season is to never give up, to push your limits and most of all, the memories of having the opportunity to play with an amazing group of athletes. I am proud of the many friendships created and the overall amazing year I had playing with this group of girls.
Forward Breanna Howell:
We had many challenges thrown our way, and nothing came easy. We had to push through everything in our way and work harder than anyone could imagine to be the best. We had many outstanding wins and some tough losses, but nothing could get in the way of our end goal, provincials. No ranking or standing could prove we were the best, nothing but provincials could. So we put in the work multiple times a week on and off the ice. We had amazing coaches, helpful staff and devoted parents. We put an endless amount of hours into yoga, practice, dryland, team bonding activities and anything else you can think of to ensure we would come home with the gold at the end of the season. Then came the news of the cancellation of the season due to COVID-19. At the time, we all thought all the blood sweat and tears we had put into the season were a waste. However, thinking back I would not have done anything differently, and I wouldn’t trade that season for anything in the world.
Defender Ella Mulroy:
Describing this team is very easy; this team was amazing. We didn’t have any “stars,” and we didn’t have to count on one person to do it all. We all were great hockey players, and together we were a very powerful unit that could achieve anything when we put our heart and minds to it. My best memory from this year was definitely winning the Nepean Tournament. Winning this tournament meant the world to me and the team; all throughout the season Whitby and Nepean were battling hard to be the top-ranked team in Canada. We ended up playing them in the finals, and after a nail-biting game we ended up winning! This was a big deal for my team, but for me specifically, because this was the first time I had ever beaten them. This was one of the best teams I’ve ever played on. We had amazing forwards that could score and great defense that didn't let anyone by them. But if they did let someone by, we could always count on our goalies to shut them down.
Defender Jordan Radway:
The team always came together in tough situations. We had a strong desire to be the best of the best. Finding out that the season was over was heartbreaking. We had worked so hard, and we still had something to prove in the playoffs and provincials. Were we going to win!
Goalie Katelyn Mercer:
Our team as a whole is fast, competitive and good at moving the puck. Every player on the team is great at their position and worked together to win games. Our coaches taught us many new drills and plays to help us win.
Defender Brooklyn Webb:
This was definitely the strongest all-around team I have played for. We had three solid lines, which all contributed, worked hard and performed against the best teams in Ontario and the U.S. My favorite memory from the season was the Rochester tournament finals. It was two Ontario teams in the final of a U.S. tournament, which was cool, and the other team was Nepean, which was ranked first in Ontario. Before our game the power went out for at least half an hour, and we listened to music in the dark. We then went on to beat them and take home the gold for the first time. When I found out the season was cancelled I was devastated. I cried for a while after hearing it. The last time we were on the ice as a team, we didn’t know that it would be the end. This team had the potential to win the Lower Lakes and Provincials in my opinion. I had never played on a team who had a chance to do that, and it was sad to have that stripped away from us unexpectedly.
Defender Catherine Derlis:
This year changed me. I met many new girls I hadn’t known before, learned new things as a person and a player and developed a lot over the year. Even though we were a very strong team from the start, as we went through the year and got to know each other we only got better. Even though we didn’t get to finish the year like we deserved to, these ladies will always have a special place in my heart. It still has me very sad that we don’t get to finish off like we should, but I know it may be for the best to help contain and prevent this virus from getting worse.
Defender Maeryn Paterson:
I would describe our team as hard-working and smart. As a team, we showed up and worked hard on the ice and off the ice. We never gave up and always pushed each other to be better. A lot of my favorite memories with this team involve our team bonding exercises. I was really disappointed when the season was cancelled. Our team was very strong this year, and I think we had a good chance of winning provincials and Lower Lakes. I miss my team, and I’m really sad that we didn’t get to finish this year competing for two gold medals.
Forward Emily Windover:
We were a determined team who never got down on themselves if we were losing. We always came back with a way to win. We were focused from the minute we stepped in the arena to when the buzzer sound. Every individual put her best effort in for the 30 seconds they were on the ice. If someone was having a bad shift, her teammates and coaches would pick her up and keep her motivated. Our team was a close family, which helped us communicate and work together easily. This team had brought many joys and memories into my life. I am upset the season is coming to an end as I feel we had a good chance of winning it all. When we heard the news, the team group chat was all very upset and bringing back all our amazing memories. We still had some hope that we were going to be back on the ice as a team again, so we kept working hard. Once it was all cancelled we were upset, but we know this is a team we will never forget.
Forward Vienna Oliver:
This year we had a very hard-working team that never gave up and always gave it 100 percent. The highlight of the hockey season to me is when we won our tournament in Ottawa, because we played amazing that weekend and battled very hard. I am very disappointed about the cancellation of the season, because we worked so hard to get there and we had an amazing shot at winning it all.
Forward Hannah Thornton:
I believe our team was made up of 17 hard-working girls who were coached to a perfect system. Hard work on and off the ice led to our team’s success. I loved that our team was a team and not a bunch of individuals who put themselves above anyone else. My favorite memory of this season was the Rochester Tournament. I really believe that this is when our team bonded. I was really disappointed when the season was cancelled as I really believed that we had the team to win everything!! I miss everybody and can't wait to get back on the ice.
Congratulations to the Whitby Wolves players and coaches on an amazing season:
Goalies – Katelyn Mercer, Laura Harry
Defense – Emily Donegan, Catherine Derlis, Ella Mulroy, Maeryn Paterson, Brooklyn Webb, Jordan Radway
Forwards – Emily Windover, Hannah Thornton, Breanna Howell, Neve Wamboldt, Grace Warner, Vienna Oliver, Makayla Mailhot, Kate Donegan, Julia Boese
Manager – Kelly Wamboldt
Trainer – Kim Webb
Coaches: Steve Donegan, Tom Harry, Craig Paterson, Dale Mercer, Chris Mailhot
Richmond Ravens Midget A (41-4-2)
The only non-Ontario No. 1 team in our Tier 2 Canada Girls rankings, the British Columbia-bases Ravens enjoyed a dominant 2019-20 season. They closed out the campaign with three-consecutive shutout victories and in the midst of a 17-game unbeaten streak during which they went 16-0-1 while recording 10 shutouts and allowing just nine total goals.
Believe it or not, Richmond’s season-ending streak followed a five-game winless string (0-4-1), with one of those losses coming against the United States’ second-ranked team, Little Caesar’s. Before that brief hiccup the Ravens had opened the season by winning their first 25 contests.
Richmond outscored its opponents, 175-40, on the year, allowing just 0.85 goals per game. The Ravens captured the Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association regular-season title with a 14-1-1 league mark thanks to a 75-13 goal differential then swept all seven of their postseason games, allowing just two goals, to earn the PCAHA championship banner.
For the year, the Ravens recorded 22 shutouts and allowed more than one goal in 10 out of 47 contests, including once in their final 16 outings.