Moments after earning a thrilling 4-3 overtime win in a semifinal clash against the Burlington Barracudas at OWHA provincials, Stoney Creek Sabres head coach Brian Cleary heard wild cheers.
“I thought the celebration was a bit much for a semifinal win, but we found out from our parents that we were going to the Esso Cup because Sudbury had won over Chatham five minutes before,” says Cleary with a laugh.
With the Sudbury Lady Wolves – the Esso Cup hosts – serving as the Sabres’ gold medal game opponent, Stoney Creek guaranteed itself a berth at Canada’s National Female Midget Championship even if it lost the provincial final.
The Sabres, who finished 11-7-4 during the Lower Lake Female Hockey League season, did lose the championship, but they managed to push the 19-1-2 Lady Wolves to the limit in a contest that ended 3-2.
It would be fair to say that Stoney Creek was not the most obvious contender to end up at the national championship considering it was sitting with a 4-6-2 record in early December. However, the Sabres rebounded from their early-season struggles with a 7-1-2 run heading into the playoffs.
Their late-season momentum translated into postseason victories over the Buffalo Regals and Burlington Barracudas, but they ran into a road bump in the LLFHL South Central Division final; the Mississauga Chiefs knocked the Sabres out of contention for the league title with a two-game sweep.
Everything came together for Stoney Creek at provincials. After losing their opening game to the Saugeen-Maitland Lightning, the Sabres won group games against the Kingston Ice Wolves and North Bay Ice Boltz, a qualifying-round contest against the Markham-Stouffville Stars and a quarter-final match-up over Mississauga to pave the way for that happy moment at the end of the semifinals.
“The internal belief of the girls took over as the tournament went along and that’s what got us here,” says Cleary.
His players feel good about their game, and they are determined to continue their magical run at the Esso Cup.
HOW THEY GOT TO SUDBURY
OWHA Provincials Preliminary round: 2-1 – first place in Group D (lost to Saugeen-Maitland Lightning 3-0; defeated Kingston Ice Wolves 4-1; defeated North Bay Ice Boltz 5-1) Qualifying round: defeated Markham-Stouffville Stars 3-1 Quarter-final: defeated Mississauga Chiefs 2-1 Semifinal: defeated Burlington Barracudas 4-3 Championship: lost to Sudbury Lady Wolves 3-2
Record (W-L-T): 11-7-4 (10th in LLFHL) Goals for: 52 (6th in LLFHL) Goals against: 35 (16th in LLFHL) Longest winning streak: 3 (Jan. 9-12)
Record: 5-2 Goals for: 20 Goals against: 13
NATIONAL MIDGET CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
2014 – Stoney Creek Sabres | fourth place | 4-3-0 | 22GF 13GA
PLAYERS TO WATCH
TIANA FACCIO leads by example … plays a 200-foot game … defensively responsible … doesn’t take a shift off
REAGAN MINOR two-way forward … leader on and off the ice … plays with passion … tenacious and gritty player
VANESSA UPSON power forward … very strong on her skates … hard, accurate shot … has a knack for scoring big goals
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