The games are done, the bags are packed and the hotel rooms are booked – the Road to the Esso Cup has just five teams remaining on it. Come April 25, one of these teams will be the last one standing at Max Bell Centre as the first-ever national female Midget champions.
CALGARY FLYERS – HOST
Unlike most national championship hosts, the Calgary Flyers didn’t know when the season began they would be playing for the Esso Cup – they had to beat out two other Calgary-based Midget teams in the AMMFHL playoffs to earn the host berth. The Flyers were the class of the AMMFHL during the regular season, leading the league in points, goals for and goals against, scoring 25 goals more than any other team and averaging close to five goals per game. Brittany Styner led the way offensively, finishing second in league scoring and earning the AMMFHL Top Forward award after averaging more than a point-and-a-half per game. With their 24-6-2 record earning them top spot in the South Division, the Flyers waited patiently while the Calgary Bruins eliminated the Calgary Chaos in the opening round of the playoffs, leaving the Flyers and Bruins as the last teams standing in the race for the Esso Cup host berth. With the Flyers on the brink of victory in the best-of-five series, captain Erin Lally did the work in Game 3, scoring the game-tying goal and the overtime winner as the Flyers locked up a spot in the national championship. After squeaking by the Highwood Raiders in the South Division final the Flyers faced the Edmonton Thunder for AMMFHL bragging rights. After a Game 1 win on home ice the Flyers failed to find the win column again, falling in four games.
EDMONTON THUNDER – PACIFIC
The Edmonton Thunder always seemed to pick the best times to play its best hockey, and as a result it will play for Canada’s National Female Midget Championship. The Thunder played three series during the AMMFHL playoffs, lost the first game in all three, faced elimination four times and yet still came out as league champions and, eventually, regional champions. Edmonton lost a tight race for the AMMFHL’s North Division crown during the regular season, finishing just three points behind the Sherwood Park Fury. Brittany Esposito claimed the league’s scoring title with 67 points. After earning a first-round bye, the Thunder eliminated the pesky Lloydminster Steelers in a five-game quarter-final series and won three in a row, the last on the road, to top the Fury. A series-opening loss to the 2009 Esso Cup hosts from Calgary in the AMMFHL final put Edmonton in a familiar 1-0 hole, but three consecutive wins, the last a double-overtime thriller on home ice, gave the Thunder the league crown and sent it to the Pacific Regional, with the B.C. champion Vancouver Fusion making the trip to the Alberta capital. Two third-period goals gave Edmonton a tight win in Game 1, and the Thunder booked its trip down Highway 2 for the Esso Cup with another 2-0 win in Game 2, giving the AMMFHL a pair of teams playing for the national championship.
NORTHERN STARS – ATLANTIC
The Northern Stars enter the 2009 Esso Cup as arguably the hottest women’s Midget team in the country, unbeaten in 12 games dating back to the final weeks of the New Brunswick Female Midget AAA Hockey League schedule. The Stars led the way during the NBFMAAAHL season, leading the league in goals for and goals against while fashioning the best record in the four-team loop. Julie Breau, Christina Kelly and Kim Deschênes were the offensive leaders, all finishing in the top ten in league scoring, led by Breau. Northern was undoubtedly the best team at the New Brunswick provincials, routing the Metro-Moncton Ricoh Rockets in the championship game to book a spot at the Atlantic championship in Glace Bay, N.S. The round robin of the regional championship was all about Deschênes, as she scored five times in a tournament-opening win over Cape Breton and added hat tricks in wins over Western and Metro Boston Pizza. Northern finished a perfect 4-0 in the round robin in Glace Bay, setting up a match-up with Metro with a berth in the National Female Midget Championship on the line. Deschênes and Alyssa Sherrard had a goal and an assist each in the first period as the Stars jumped out to an early lead, and Karine Roy’s goal in the final minute of the second period stood up as the winner as Northern earned the Atlantic berth at the 2009 Esso Cup with a 3-2 victory over the N.S. champs.
SCARBOROUGH SHARKS – ONTARIO
The Scarborough Sharks did it the hard way, rebounding from an opening-game loss at the OWHA provincial championship to earn Ontario’s berth at the 2009 Esso Cup. The offence was led by Annie Shapero, who averaged almost a point a game in 80 games across all competitions, Kaitlyn Keon, the grand-daughter of Hall of Famer Dave Keon, and Justine Coll, who combined for 188 points. The road to the 2009 Esso Cup got off to a rocky start, as the Sharks suffered a 3-2 loss to the Saugeen-Maitland Lightning in the Group E opener. But Scarborough did not allow another goal in the round robin, scoring shutout wins over Kanata and Orillia, earning second place in the group and a spot in the qualifying round. The Sharks faced the host Etobicoke Dolphins in the qualifying round and earned a tight 2-1 victory to send them to the quarter-finals, where they topped the Waterloo Ravens 1-0 in four overtimes. Another overtime win, this time 2-1 over the Sudbury Lady Wolves in the semifinal, meant the Sharks were just one victory away from a cross-country trip to Calgary and the chance to play for the National Female Midget Championship, with only the Whitby Wolves in their way. Despite finishing behind the Wolves in league play and losing in league playoffs, Scarborough topped Whitby 2-1 in another overtime thriller, clinching provincial gold and a spot in the 2009 Esso Cup.
WESTMAN WILDCATS – WEST
Playing a schedule consisting mainly of tournaments and exhibition games, the Westman Wildcats peaked at the right time, winning the Manitoba provincials and sweeping their way through the West Regional and into the 2009 Esso Cup. Overall, Westman earned 38 wins in 55 games, taking on opponents from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and the United States, outscoring its opponents 211-96. The offence was led by captain Brittany Phillips, who racked up 79 points in just 44 games. Silver medalists at the 2008 Manitoba provincials, the Wildcats were out to take that last step up the podium as they hosted the 2009 provincial tournament at their home rink in Hartney. After posting a 1-0-1 record in round-robin play, the Wildcats scored a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Marauders and a 3-1 victory over Pembina Valley to advance to the gold medal game and set up a rematch with the Winnipeg Rangers, the same team that had topped Westman one year earlier with gold on the line. This time, though, it would be the Wildcats who would come out victorious, hammering the Rangers 5-0. The Prince Albert Bears, champions of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, made the trip east for the best-of-three West Regional, where the Wildcats continued their home ice dominance, sweeping aside the Bears in two straight to advance to Calgary.