Not the fastest. Just the best.

This story really starts back in September at our hockey association's "rep" tryouts.  Despite Garrett being invited to play rep (Garrett has been rated as the #1 player in his class 4 years running), we decided rec would be a better experience for him.  There were a few reasons for that, one of them was the observation that better hockey players were passed over in lieu of, well, not better hockey players.  It gave us the confidence that Garrett would be playing with solid players and against solid competition at rec (other local associations don't water down their rep teams like Sno-King does, leaving lots of good players at the rec level).

That theory was put to the test this past weekend when we put together a team of 9 rec players and 5 rep players (5 players that we knew were coachable and team players) to play in the area's premier 10U tournament: the Seattle Jr Squirt 'A' tournament.  It attracts 'A' teams from as far north as Kamloops and as far south as Portland.  Over half the teams were from Canada.  So yes, we had a roster that included 6 players who were told they weren't good enough to play rep, going up against the best rep teams from BC, Washington, and Oregon.  On top of that, we assembled our team just two weeks ago, and going into game 1, some of the players never met each other.

Fortunately, our head coach is great (yes, even better than me, if you can believe that).  He put together a simple plan, we put structure in place, we held the kids to high standards.  Almost like   he subscribes to my coaching blog :)  The rec players had two tune up games against other rep teams in the area, and they won both of those games.  So going into the tournament we felt like we would have a good showing, although we would be surprised if we won more than our first game.

And for that first game, we had the privilege of playing the best of Sno-King's 10U rep teams.  Definitely a test of my "the wrong players are playing rep" theory.  We came out of the gate strong, opening a 3-0 lead in the first period, and having a 5-2 lead midway through the third, before closing out a 6-4 victory.

At great of a victory that was, our toughest competition was still to come.  The two other teams in our pool were from Canada - Squamish and Kamloops.  We played Squamish next, and we battled back and forth all game.  We even had to defend shorthanded by two (5-on-3) for a full two minutes.  Garrett was selected with our superstar (we were lucky enough to land the top player in Sno-King, who scored 55 goals this season) and another rep player to defend.  The three, despite not playing together before, did an amazing job killing the two minute penalty, and when our two players jumped out of the box, they grabbed the puck and scored.  Squamish was a terrific team, but we played our hearts out, and with two minutes to go we held a 6-5 lead.  They pull their goalie, and in trying to ice the puck from our own zone, we score. Twice.  Unbelievable.

Kamloops was next, and it was a tough game for a while (at one point tied 2-2), until we pulled away with a 9-3 victory.

Wow, we showed up hoping to be competitive, and the next we know we are 3-0 and heading to the semi-finals.  Unbelievable.

Sunday morning we drew Portland as our opponent.  It's the semis, so we know they are a great team.  We gave up an early goal, got it back with a short handed goal, and battled our way to build a 4-1 lead halfway through the third.  Then the wheels fell off the bus.  Portland battled their way back to tie the game up with two minutes to go.  We head to OT, and with 3:20 left we get called for a penalty.  Playing 4-on-3, with Garrett out there to kill the penalty, Portland looks sure to get a game winning goal on a rebound.  But Garrett dives and puts his hand on the puck to keep it out of the net.  Good to save a goal, but that's also a penalty shot.

Rewind a little, with about 2 minutes to go, our head coach turns to me on the bench and says "we do not want this to go to a shootout."  His son was our goalie, and he played rec all year.  Not a lot of confidence from either of us of him going 1:1 against rep players.

So the penalty shot comes... and Quin makes the save!  That energized the team, and put the wheels back on the bus.  We are still on the penalty kill, with our superstar on the ice.  He starts to make an aggressive play on the puck in our own zone, our coach starts yelling "DON'T CHASE!  DON'T CHASE!"  Well he chases anyway, makes the steal, takes it coast to coast and wins the game in OT.  Unbelievable.

So now we are in the finals.  Playing against Squamish again.  This time they take the lead, and we are locked in a defensive battle 1-1 with about 6 minutes to go.  They start slashing and checking our superstar (across multiple shifts) and the refs don't call any penalties.  Our superstar gets pissed of, and scores 4 goals in the next 4 minutes.  And we had another goal in that stretch to win 6-1.  Unbelievable.

It was a great experience for me and Garrett.  It really shows what good preparation (remember, the rest of the teams had an entire season to prepare), good players, and hard work on the ice can get you.    As a comparison, that other Sno-King team, coached by strong coaches, went 0-4 against the same competition.

I'm so proud of the players, of Garrett, and of our coaches to accomplish what we did.  The parents loved it too.  "Why couldn't THIS be our team all year?" was the most common comment I heard afterward.  Even the rep players paid to keep their Gold jerseys, a testament to the value they played on the team and the experience.

I have to say, I was really proud of Garrett (the kid in the white helmet below).  He has a history of stepping it up against better competition, and he was an absolute beast on defense, especially the penalty kill.  Just amazing what he can do on the ice and how quick his feet and hand were.

Several parents asked if we could put together the same team for some spring tournaments in Canada.  We'll see... :)

Our players weren't the fastest.  Just the best.  Congrats Sno-King Gold!

Pandemonium after the final buzzer

"Don't hurt the goalie!"

A very proud and happy team poses with their team trophy

Awwww yeah... Squirt A Champions!
How proud were the players?  Garrett and Tyler wore their jerseys and medals Monday to school!