It seemed too good to be true for the Pembina Valley Hawks – West Region champions and a spot in the 2012 Esso Cup.
For the third consecutive year, the Hawks met the Notre Dame Hounds in the best-of-three regional series to determine who would qualify for Canada’s National Female Midget Championship.
The Hounds, the defending national champions, had to be considered the favourites entering the series, having swept the Hawks in each of the past two seasons and playing on home ice in Wilcox, Sask., but Pembina Valley battled its way through two tight games to sweep Notre Dame and dethrone the top dogs.
“We’re so excited to be advancing to the next level,” Hawks head coach Jeff Andrews said.
A physical education and social studies high school teacher, Andrews shared his team’s excitement in ending Notre Dame’s reign as West Region champions.
“Notre Dame has been a quality program for such a long time, so to finally beat them and advance to nationals is just such an exciting time for our hockey club.”
It didn’t come easy for Pembina Valley, however. After a nail-biting 2-1 victory in Game 1, the Hawks needed a second overtime to finally eliminate the Hounds in Game 2, winning the series on Lauryn Keen’s extra-time winner.
In his first year at the helm of the Pembina Valley program, Andrews led the Hawks to a nearly perfect regular season, going 18-1-1, before nine consecutive wins gave Pembina Valley the Manitoba Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship.
Andrews instills a team-first atmosphere and a structured style of play, which he credits as the keys to his team’s success.
“We really want everyone to feel like they’re a part of the team and we go out of our way to make sure that happens,” he said. “We talk about the importance of each girl filling a different role and how they allow our team to have success.”
Second-year defenceman Madison Hutchinson has embraced her role as the Hawks’ leader and she too shared her enthusiasm and nervousness in preparing for her first Esso Cup experience.
“Being the underdogs and coming out on top was pretty special. I’m really excited for this opportunity,” said Hutchinson, who led all Hawks blue-liners with 32 points in 20 regular season games before adding 15 points in 11 playoff contests. “We’re playing with confidence right now, so we have to go into the tournament on that positive note because we really don’t know what to expect.”
With the 2012 Esso Cup set to face off April 22 in Charlottetown, P.E.I., the Hawks are out to prove they can square off against some of the best teams in the nation.
“If we can stick to our game plan like we have been, we will be a competitive team,” Andrews said. “Anytime you come out of a tough region like the West, you have a good shot at winning the Esso Cup.”
ROAD TO THE ESSO CUP: PEMBINA VALLEY HAWKS
Manitoba Female Midget AAA Hockey League
defeated Notre Dame Hounds 2-0 (2-1, 3-2 2OT)
ALL-TIME AT THE NATIONAL FEMALE MIDGET CHAMPIONSHIP: PEMBINA VALLEY HAWKS