Team Ontario-Blue came into the U-18 Women’s Hockey Championships as the ‘other’ Ontario team. They departed as national champions.
Team Blue got the best of a tough Manitoba team taking home the gold medal with a 4-2 victory Sunday at the U-18 finals. Marking the first championship Ontario-Blue has won in six years of playing in Ontario-Red’s shadow.
“We just made history, Blue has never gotten to the finals and won,” said Team Blue captain Krista Yip-Chuck as her team celebrated behind her. “This is a huge team win, we came into this as the underdogs, all we wanted to do was prove ourselves and win.”
Blue reached the finals after beating provincial rivals, outright favourite, and six-time defending champion Ontario-Red in the semifinals with a shocking 7-1 upset on Saturday to face Manitoba – the Pool-B winners who defeated Ontario-Blue 2-1 in the preliminaries.
“It’s always great to be able to beat another great team,” said Yip-Chuck about eliminating Ontario-Red from the gold medal for a rematch with Manitoba. “We knew Manitoba was a phenomenal team, we lost to them in round-robin so we knew we had to come out and battle hard.”
Tied 2-2 in the third, Team Blue forward Hailey Noronha whacked at a bouncing puck that beat Manitoba goaltender Brittini Mowat just over a minute into the period.
Blue would hold on from there as an empty-net goal from Brooke Webster sealed the championship.
“I’m just so proud of the girls,” said Ontario-Blue head coach Bradi Cochrane. “They bought into what we asked them to do at the beginning of the week, and it came through when we needed it to, I can’t be more proud of them.”
She said Ontario-Blue used the team’s round-robin loss to Manitoba as motivation for the finals.
“Adversity builds character, there is no better way to overcome a loss with a win, the kids saw that as some adversity and rolled with it,” noted Cochrane.
For the entire tournament Cochrane stressed that Ontario-Blue’s team strength started with its goaltenders, and it was both net-minders that led them to gold.
“We had two fantastic goaltenders that gave us a chance to win every game, they can steal games, they can keep us in games, we start from our goaltenders out 100 per cent,” said Cochrane.
Jessica Dodds stopped 29 shots for Ontario-Blue in the semifinals, and Brittany Smrke turned aside 27 Manitoba attempts.
Manitoba got on the board first when Jessica Vallotton scored midway through the opening frame, but Blue responded quickly when Paige Horton lit the lamp less than two minutes after Vallotton’s goal to make it 1-1.
Forward Lauryn Keen gave Manitoba a 2-1 lead to start the second, only to have Blue answer again when Yip-Chuck scored her first goal of the tournament to end the period.
Manitoba head coach Ashley van Aggelen said her team brought their best game to the finals, but struggled to exploit their opportunities.
“As the game went on I felt we were the better team in the second and third period,” said van Aggelen whose team started the tournament with a 4-1 loss to Alberta. “We got better as the week went on, shift to shift, period to period, we’re happy with the way things ended. We felt we were playing our best hockey we just couldn’t capitalize.”
“I definitely agree their goalie played well, we had some pretty good scoring opportunities, we were getting traffic, but we just couldn’t find the back of the net.”
For Ontario-Blue the pride of winning a gold medal is even greater having kept the championship in the province.
“It feels great to win for Ontario, that’s what we came out here to do,” said Yip-Chuck.