by Geordie Carragher
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – The Pembina Valley Hawks (West) are a team made up of players from 12 different communities, a fact referenced all week on an end-board sign that read: ‘12 Towns = Pembina Valley = Esso Cup!
A reference to the team’s emphasis on playing for each other, the Hawks fulfilled that sign’s prophecy Saturday at the CARI Complex, defeating former champions the Thunder Bay Queens (Ontario) 4-2 to claim their first-ever gold medal at Canada’s National Female Midget Championship.
Cassidy Carels (Bruxelles, Man.) and Lauryn Keen (Manitou, Man.) had three points apiece to help send the Hawks flying to the top of the 2012 Esso Cup pack.
Jessica Kaminsky (La Salle, Man.) opened the scoring for Pembina Valley, slipping behind the Thunder Bay defence and beating Queens goaltender Megan Leikkari (Thunder Bay, Ont.) on a deke to put the Hawks up 1-0 midway through the first.
The Thunder Bay Queens, which featured five returnees from the 2010 Esso Cup championship team, pressed for the equalizer throughout the remainder of the period, applying constant pressure in the offensive zone. However, Brittni Mowat (Glenboro, Man.) withstood the potent Queens attack, making plenty of key saves and showing why she was named the tournament’s top netminder. Thunder Bay outshot Pembina Valley 12-4 in the opening frame.
Thunder Bay finally broke through early in the second, as 2010 Esso Cup MVP Kaitlyn Tougas (Thunder Bay, Ont.) had her initial shot blocked by a Hawks defender, but found the puck again and fired it past Mowat to tie the game up one-goal apiece.
But Pembina Valley reclaimed the lead just five minutes later, when Kaminsky made a beautiful cross-ice pass to Carels, who made no mistake from the top of the crease, just seven seconds into a power-play, to make it 2-1 in favour of the Hawks.
Carels scored her second of the game four minutes later, as Brooke Drummond (Holland, Man.) muscled the tournament’s top forward, Jessica Gazzola (Thunder Bay, Ont.), off the puck at the Queens blue line. Carels picked up the puck, and her shot squeaked through Leikkari’s arm to give Pembina Valley a 3-1 lead.
Thunder Bay ran into more penalty trouble late in the second, and Pembina Valley made them for it, with Keen scoring a highlight reel goal at 18:41 in the second. She picked up a long stretch pass, pulled the puck around a Queens defender with a toe drag, and put the puck over Leikkari’s right shoulder to give Pembina Valley a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Thunder Bay applied more pressure on Pembina Valley to start the third, and their efforts were rewarded midway through the period, when Cava, named the tournament’s MVP, converted a cross-ice pass from Tougas to pull Thunder Bay back to within two. But the Queens would get no closer to reclaiming the Esso Cup throne. Although their pressure persisted for the rest of the game, with the Queens coming at Pembina Valley with wave after wave of attacks, but Mowat stood tall between the posts in the dying moments, turning in one last sensational effort with 35 saves. Pembina Valley played well at both ends of the ice, proving the classic line that, “offence wins games, but defence wins championships.”
Congratulations to the Pembina Valley Hawks on claiming their first Esso Cup gold medal, and to all six participating teams at this year’s National Female Midget Championship for all of their efforts on the ice this week in Charlottetown.