MYHockey News

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait: The U15 AA Peterborough Ice Kats Photo

By Scott Lowe -

It happens in youth sports all the time. 

A special group of athletes that just happened to be born during the same year randomly comes together at a young age and the bond is immediate. On and off the field, court or ice, right away it feels as if hey were meant to be together.

They may not turn out to be a championship team – or even winning team, for that matter – immediately, but their love of the game and the unbridled joy that’s on display whenever they are with their teammates provides an indicator that great things surely are on the horizon.

These teams generally improve dramatically during that first season because they look forward to being on the field together no matter the purpose. The excitement and the joy of playing and competing together provides an energy at every practice and game, pushing the players without them even knowing it to make each other better whenever they practice or play together.

Over the course of several years this bond tends to grow and allows for many special lifetime memories and friendships to develop. There may be championships, heartbreaking losses, devastating injuries, comedic moments and memorable trips to far away locations where the players can do what they love most – compete and hang out together. 

At some point, unfortunately, the end for these special teams approaches – all too rapidly when we look back on those times later in life.

The most-talented players who are fully committed to pursuing the sport to the highest level possible might move on to a different team that may provide a better opportunity for them to achieve their athletic goals. Players may scatter, attending different schools and playing for different clubs. Some players may find another sport they enjoy more or that provides them with better long-term opportunities and others may develop different interests and just stop playing altogether or continue playing but at a level that isn’t quite as serious.

Usually, after years of competing together, it becomes clear that the time is nearing for the group to dissolve and for most of the players to head off in different directions. It’s a bittersweet time for the kids and their families as the memories will last forever, but the time spent together will diminish, and in many cases, evaporate completely.

Entering the 2021-22 hockey season, the players and coaches of the U15 AA Peterborough Ice Kats knew that time was at hand, and with that in mind they decided the theme of their season would be “The Last Waltz.”

“We knew from the beginning that most of our players would be going off in different ways after this year,” head coach Chris Moher said.

But no one could have guessed the level of success that this team ultimately would achieve during their final twirl around the dance floor.

All they knew was that their time together was coming to an end, and they wanted to make the most of it. Like many young people around the world, this group’s athletic experiences turned out to be much different than those described earlier in this piece. 

The team had its season cut short by the COVID shutdown in 2020. At that point, the Ice Kats were the top-ranked U13 team in Canada, and the following season wouldn’t happen at all thanks to the pandemic. With what amounted to their homecoming dances and junior prom having been cancelled, this last dance – their last waltz – took on added meaning.

“The feeling of getting back together as a team for the first time felt so special and so exciting,” forward Avery Johnston said. “Playing our first game together made me remember how much I missed all my friends and how much i missed playing hockey with all of them.”

In general, it’s much easier these days thanks to modern technology and social media to capture the memories youth teams create over the years in photos or on video. There will always be reminders of the great times had with great friends playing on these special teams. Unfortunately, the Ice Kats were going to have to cram two years’ worth of memories into just one season.

They might have done even more than that. 

The Ice Kats went wire to wire as the top-ranked team in Canada, overcoming a few bumps in the road during the journey before ultimately capturing the Ontario provincial championship. 

Peterborough picked up right where it had left off in U13, opening the season with three straight victories and outscoring its opponents by a stunning 18-2 margin. But a 3-1 setback to their arch-rivals, the second-ranked Durham West Lightning Sept. 26, foreshadowed what would be a back-and-forth battle between the two clubs for bragging rights and Ontario hockey supremacy.

“We had a good start, but I don't think this was a surprise as the core of our team had been together for three or four years and we felt like because of that we should have a real advantage on our opponents from a team chemistry and systems standpoint,” Moher said. “We knew teams would close the gap on us, which they did, and we just tried to keep giving the girls new and different tactical plays – especially from an offensive standpoint – so that we could always stay ahead of our opponents regardless of how much they videoed us and broke us down.”

The strong start, which continued for 23 more games before the next loss, a 3-1 setback against the fifth-ranked North York Storm Dec. 23, also was buoyed by the work the team put in together even during the COVID shutdowns. The players continued to meet twice a week for workouts via Zoom when they couldn’t be on the ice together during the 2020-21 season and also assembled for Zoom discussions with college and junior coaches during that down time. There even was a memorable and inspirational Zoom session with Canadian women’s hockey hero Rebecca Johnston.

“We knew we were going to have a strong end to our {U13) season, but when we found out we couldn’t finish our season we were all devastated,” Johnston said, thinking back the spring of 2020. “Throughout COVID our coach kept us focused and engaged through online workouts, Zoom calls and hockey-focused projects. it was disappointing, but thankfully Chris and the rest of the coaching staff made the best of it.”

Those efforts paid off in a big way. 

The loss to North York left the Ice Kats with a remarkable 25-2 record that included a stretch in which they won seven-straight games without surrendering a single goal. At one point they allowed just seven goals in a span of 14 contests.

Anchoring the defensive unit that posted those impressive numbers were goaltenders Sadie Davidson and Lacey Clement, who Moher descried as the “top goalie tandem in the province,” along with defenders Ava Moher, Brooke Cavanagh, Sydney Sawyer, Rhaea Flint, Kylee Strano and Amy Clements.

Among the victories during Peterborough’s remarkable run to open the season was a 3-2 overtime decision against the fourth-ranked Nepean Wildcats that earned the Ice Kats one of the six tournament titles they would claim during the season. That’s when Moher realized this group had what it took to have the type of season for which the players had hoped. Peterborough trailed, 2-0, entering the third period of that contest but rallied to pull out the championship.

“Winning the Clarington tournament was a key victory for us,” he said.  “The coaches felt we were carrying a majority of the play and deserved a lot better. We kept the girls loose and positive between the second and third periods but also knew if we didn't pot a goal soon that the clock would start to feel like it was going twice as fast. We did end up tying the game and winning in OT. That was a big lesson for our team. We knew we were good, but we needed to experiencing coming from behind in a big game to truly believe in ourselves no matter the situation.”

The team played nine more games – all victories – before the unthinkable happened. Once again, the Ice Kats’ season was put on hold as the Omicron variant spread rapidly around the world. Hockey in Ontario was shut down for the rest of December and the entire month of January. Although news reports indicated that this, too, would pass, given what the team had experienced the previous two years, even the coaches were somewhat skeptical.

“As the coach, I was somewhat pessimistic about the season re-starting again but didn't want the players to know,” Moher said. “That was just based on how the lockdowns had occurred over the course of the previous year and a half. We actually pulled together for team pictures one day for our last practice because we didn't know if we would be back together again.”

Despite the disappointment felt when the season was halted, the players remained optimistic.

“When Covid shut our team down, I think it was hard on most of us if anything because we didn’t want what happened two years ago to repeat,” forward Sophie Harold said, “especially with the bond and potential that we all knew we had. That first practice back from the break was one of the best feelings that I think I’ve ever had. These girls were my sisters, and I didn’t think I could stay away from them much longer. We were rusty at first if I’m going to be honest, but from that moment moving forward we all knew what our goal was and how we needed to push ourselves to get there.”

That goal, of course, was a provincial championship, which most likely would also bring with it the top overall ranking in Canada. It wouldn’t be easy, however, with the second-ranked Lightning standing in Peterborough’s way.

“Upon gathering again in February, we felt very lucky, and we were on a mission to finish what was started four years ago,” Moher said. “There was great energy and enthusiasm upon returning to the ice.”

The Ice Kats’ record stood at 35-2 entering the hiatus, which also interrupted a nine-game winning streak. They wouldn’t play another game for about 50 days, returning to play against the No. 25 Whitby Wolves with a 5-0 victory Feb. 5. Two more wins followed before those pesky Lightning handed Peterborough just its third loss in 41 outings, 3-0.

At that point, the Ice Kats had faced Durham West four times, posting a 2-2 record and having been outscored in those contests, 8-7. The teams would go on to meet seven more times with both sides posting 3-3-1 records. Two of those contests held more meaning than the others, however.

The first important showdown came during the Lower Lakes Female Hockey League playoffs March 31. While devastating for the players, that 2-1 loss, which needed a shootout that went many rounds deep to determine a winner, left Moher feeling oddly confident.

“One, we played a great game, and we had numerous chances to win it in regulation and overtime,” he said. “And two, we cared. Seeing the girls so devastated I knew that would be a feeling that we would do everything possible to avoid if we met again {for the provincial championship}.”

Coaches usually know best, and sure enough the two teams would face off one more time on April 10 with the Ontario championship on the line. It was another well-played, hard-fought contest, but this time the Ice Kats came out on top in a 2-1 victory.

“The thing that made this team so special was our team culture and our ability to overcome challenges as a team,” Johnston said. “The defining point for me is when we lost in the finals against our rivals, the Durham West Lightning, who we had been so close against all year to go to the Lower Lake Championships. It made everyone on our team realize how much we hated to lose and how we wanted to do anything we could to win the provincial championship. We doubled down and worked as hard as we could every practice and made sure we were doing anything and everything to win.” 

When all was said and done, the members of the Ice Kats had filled their memory banks with six tournament championships, a provincial gold medal and a No. 1 U15 national ranking. They finished the year with a 64-6-2 record and outscored their opponents by an eye-popping 283-49. 

In addition to Harold and Johnston, leading an offensive attack that averaged nearly four goals per game were forwards Molly Farace, Kate Bell, Claire Chambers, Claire Baynham, Clara Williams, Cheyenne Degeer and Chloe Fife.

After having their dreams put on hold repeatedly, the 2021-22 U15 Peterborough Ice Kats somehow did find a way to cram two years’ worth of memories into one unforgettable season. 

“All of our championships that we won this year were some of the most defining moments in most of our lives, and we will probably never forget them,” Harold said. “Provincials at the end of the year is what made our team special in a way no other team could be special.” 

It was a long time coming, but the 2021-22 U15 Peterborough Ice Kats more than earned the right to waltz off into the sunset as champions.

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