Family members and fans of the Bantam AAA Mid-Isle Wildcats, from right, Kate Gaudet, Pauline Gallant and Joy Coulson, cheer the team on during their championship game against the Miramachi Panthers at the South Shore Actiplex in Crapaud Sunday. While the team lost 3-0, the 10th annual North River Minor Hockey Association's Sweetheart Female Hockey Tournament was seen as a major success for the sport in P.E.I.
©MITCH MACDONALD/THE GUARDIAN
It's a weekend that female hockey players in P.E.I. and other Atlantic provinces look forward to all year.
And the 10th anniversary of the North River Minor Hockey Association's (NRMHA) Sweetheart Female Hockey Tournament didn't disappoint the more than 70 teams involved.
For players like Payton Kelly, of the North River Peewee A Flames, it's the most highly anticipated tournament of the year.
"I don't know, there's just something about it that makes it really exciting," said Kelly. "There's no such thing as a boring game."
Teammate Georgia Mallett, agreed and pointed toward the off-Island competition as providing much of the excitement for which the tournament is known.
"I like it because we get to play teams from away that we've never played before. So it's kind of something new rather than just playing the same teams from the Island," she said.
Female hockey was showcased on nine different ice surfaces through the weekend, with organizers declaring the annual tournament a success for players, coaches, volunteers and the NRMHA as a whole.
There was also extra cause to celebrate.
Besides being an anniversary, the 2016 tournament marked the first time a North River team won its division's championship.
In fact, North River's Novice "Vanilla Cupcakes" and Atom Flames both won their championship games on Sunday.
The Atom squad downed the Southeast Stars 5-1 in Crapaud's South Shore Actiplex. At the same time, the Novice group shut out the Pownal Pink Panthers 2-0 in North River's APM Centre.
Tournament co-chair, Kevin Sentner, congratulated both teams.
"It's the first time in 10 years a host team has won the tournament," said Sentner. "We've been close a couple of times. We've had teams in the finals before, but never seemed to be able to get a banner."
The Bantam AAA Mid-Isle Wildcats also came close to winning their banner.
The squad ultimately won silver in their division Sunday after losing to Miramachi Panthers 3-0.
Despite the loss, a large group of parents and fans supported the team right through to the end.
Grandparent Marlene Gaudet swung a cowbell through the air as she cheered the team on, even in the final minutes.
"They still played good," Gaudet said after the game while wrapped in a blanket with the Wildcats logo sewn on one side.
The other side of Gaudet's blanket proudly sported the Summerside Capitals logo, which is who her other granddaughter plays for.
The tournament's effect on female hockey in the province has been evident to those involved.
Laurie Tremere, coach of the North River Peewee A Flames, said he began coaching about 18 years ago when his oldest daughters were in minor hockey.
At that time, there were only three female hockey teams in the North River association.
"Now we have two Novice teams, an Atom team, a Peewee team, a Bantam team and two Midget teams," said Tremere. "And I think when this (tournament) started, there was only three rinks,"
Tremere pointed toward the volunteers and organizers as having made the tournament a success.
"I know one lady in particular who volunteered for 16 hours yesterday," he said.
Sentner, who has been involved in the tournament since its beginning, said he feels the tournament has had a major impact on the quality of female hockey in the province.
"That's what we actually needed the tournament for in the beginning," he said. "It was to have a place for the kids to play and to make some money to develop female hockey (in North River)."
Proceeds from this year's tournament will go toward the entire North River Minor Hockey Association, including boys teams.