For the fourth year running the Edmonton Thunder are going to the Esso Cup, booking their spot at Canada’s National Female Midget Championship thanks to a two-game sweep of the Fraser Valley Phantom in the Pacific Regional.
The Thunder scored a power-play goal with nine minutes left in Game 1 to escape with a 3-2 victory before holding on for a 3-1 win in Game 2, ensuring it remains the only Pacific Region champion in the four-year history of the Esso Cup.
“We’re very pleased with earning a spot back in the Esso Cup once again,” said Thunder head coach Bryan Keller. “It’s been a long road and this past weekend was every bit the challenge we knew it would be.”
Keller credited the Phantom for their gritty and physical style of play, forcing his team to elevate its game in order to be successful.
“We hadn’t seen that kind of play in a long time so it was a good eye opener for us.It was pretty much everything we think we’re going to see down in P.E.I. [at the Esso Cup].”
If history is any indication of what the future holds, Edmonton could be hoisting the Esso Cup on April 28.
After a fourth-place finish at the inaugural national championship in Calgary in 2009, the Thunder won bronze in 2010 before falling short in the gold medal game last year in St. Albert, Alta., dropping a 5-2 decision to the Notre Dame Hounds.
This year the Thunder is out to prove it can remain not only in medal contention against the stiffest competition in the nation, but that it is the deserving winner of female Midget hockey’s most coveted prize as well.
Players such as defenceman Jessica Healey showcase the dynamic of the Thunder roster. As a first-year player, Jessica logs veteran minutes and plays a starring role quarterbacking the team’s power play.
“By size and stature she’s the smallest player on the ice, but she has such a big heart. I thought she was solid in all six periods and really helped secure our backend,” Keller said in praise of Healey’s performance in the Pacific Regional.
“Going against people who are a lot bigger than me, my size has always been a challenge,” said the 15-year old Healey.
As she looks ahead to what will be the biggest tournament she has ever played in, she is just focusing on playing her own game.
“I have to play bigger than I am. But it’s good to know that [coach Keller] trusts me in big roles.”
The Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League’s top regular season team, finishing 24-5-3, Edmonton rattled off nine wins in 10 playoff games to claim the league’s postseason championship.
Keller said his formula for success is pretty simple.
“We have an expectation of being successful on and off the ice. If you have one, you usually have the other and that’s something that we’re tried to embed in all of our athletes from day one,” he said. “You have to have everyone buy in and understand that we want team success and everybody will get individual success from there.”
ROAD TO THE ESSO CUP: EDMONTON THUNDER
Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League
ALL-TIME AT THE NATIONAL FEMALE MIDGET CHAMPIONSHIP: EDMONTON THUNDER