The Tier 3 Bantam Canucks hosted a four-team tournament this weekend at Memorial Arena as the squad prepares themselves for the provincial championships to be held here in mid-March.
The Canucks finished in second place behind the Whitehorse Mustangs, who wrapped up the tourney undefeated and outscored the Canucks 4-1 in the finals on Sunday.
Despite falling short to the Mustangs, Canucks head coach Doug Buck said the tournament was a step in the right direction for his team that will play host to B.C.’s best Tier 3 teams next month.
“This tournament was a building block,” said Buck on Sunday. “We’ve been struggling for the beginning of the year trying to come together as a team and I think these last couple tournaments we’ve had, we’ve been taking steps in the right direction to be competitive and hopefully do very well in our own provincials.”
The bantam squad reached the finals after a 1-1-1 record in the round robin. They dropped their first game to Whitehorse 4-2 before winning over Prince George 5-1 and drawing even with the Fort St. John Bantam Flyers at 4-4.
Buck said Whitehorse will be one of the teams the Canucks will face at provincials.
“Whitehorse is a very good positional team and they forecheck hard. If we can curb that down, watching the open man and not focusing on the guys with the puck and know that they have to pass or dump the puck in, it’s just another step in the right direction.”
It was the first time this season playing on home turf for the Canucks, who have had a busy road schedule that has taken them throughout Northern B.C. to face some of the region’s best bantam squads.
“We’ve been travelling lots just to play games,” said Buck, whose team declined playing in the All Peace Hockey League for a chance to play higher-level clubs, such as Fort St. John and Prince George.
Buck says it’s been an up-and-down season for the team. They finished middle of the pack at a tournament in Prince George; struggled at a Tier 1 and Tier 2 tourney in Vernon; but also placed second in Kamloops behind Smithers, a likely provincial opponent.
“It’s trying to challenge the kids. Hopefully they are not discouraged by wins and losses and not finishing as high as we’d like. It’s about [team] building – I want to see these guys come together as a team.”
“We’re going to be right in the pack there [at provincials] and Whitehorse is definitely going to be a contender.”
“From what we’ve soon – aside from the lower mainland – I think it’s going to be a pretty competitive weekend. It could go either way depending on who plays well.”
The provincials are scheduled to run March 16-21 at Memorial Arena.