Seven Valley teams returned home from the Alberta Open this past weekend, their bags a little heavier from all the hardware collected over the four day tournament.
While Valley’s U19 squads were in town for a conference weekend in the NCL, the seniors were joined by their younger counterparts who were competing in the John Csikos Alberta Open, which was hosted concurrently alongside the NCL games.
The tournament also offered our Valley athletes a chance to get to know the men’s national team, as they hosted a meet and greet after an exhibition scrimmage on Friday afternoon. The team has a special connection to our current athletes, as Matthew Halajian, a Fraser Valley alumnus, is counted as one of the best players in Canada. Halajian was presented with a special gift from the Fraser Valley athletes before catching a plane to Greece – as the team is off to Europe for a last-chance Olympic qualification tournament.
All told, Valley was represented in the tournament by a U14 girls team, two U14 boys teams (Fraser Rock and Valley Roll), a U16 boys team, and Valley’s powerhouse U16 girls team, who are still undefeated on this season after claiming the national championship last season.
With over 25 games played over the course of the weekend, Valley’s teams enjoyed some memorable successes. Notably, the U14 boys teams battled through a tough preliminary round to face off against each other in the final, with the gold medal on the line. The match delivered on thrills, as Rock and Roll exchanged leads (and coaches) throughout the game. Ultimately, the game was decided off of a 5m penalty shot by Ethan Benoit of the Valley Roll in the final minute of the match, as Fraser Rock was unable to answer despite two timeout plays. Noah Thompson of the Valley Roll was named as the tournament’s most valuable goalie, although it was a close race between Thompson, and Will Clapham on the Fraser Rock team.
Valley’s U14 girls were consistently smaller than their opponents, but what the girls gave up in size, they made up in sheer determination. Standout performances from U12 girls Emma Benoit, Mackenzy Clark and Alexis Aujla helped propel the girls to some big wins throughout the tournament. And despite many of the older girls playing in two categories, the U14 girls managed to win their way into the bronze medal match on the final day of competition. Though they didn’t come away with the win, the team gained valuable experience playing together as they build towards Western championships.
Meanwhile, the U16 girls continued their winning ways, despite the tournament not being part of the official NCL schedule. While Valley’s veterans (and returning champions) provided the structure for the games, it was the younger generation’s chance to shine in Alberta, as a number of U14 girls played up on the U16 squad. Gabby Mantyka provided stability in nets, while earning nods as the tournament’s most valuable goaltender. The rest of the team was content to cruise to another gold medal – an important stepping stone as the girls begin to focus on Western championships in May, and another chance to defend their national championship.
Valley’s U16 boys team – perhaps the youngest team fielded in tournament play this season – managed to get off to a hot start to the weekend, going 3-0 in their first matches. However, after losing a tough match to the eventual champions, Northwest Water Polo, the boys faced a great deal of adversity in their cross-over match against the Wild. Despite the tough loss, the boys rebounded to claim the bronze medal in what was a thrilling match against the Calgary Torpedoes.
In NCL action, the U19 girls had a standout weekend, going 2-0 over the Edmonton Tsunami, and splitting the two-game series with Team Saskatchewan. Ultimately, despite many of the girls running back and forth between the pools, Valley’s results put them in a strong position heading into Western championships in May.
On the men’s side, the results were a little more mixed. The team battled to a tie against the Calgary Torpedoes on the first day, before dropping consecutive matches to the Wild, and Torpedoes again on day two. Day three saw Valley close the gap with the Wild, losing 20-14 before getting set to face off against Team Saskatchewan. It was the match of the weekend for the men, as Valley went down four goals at the start of the third, only to battle their way back into the game with a late surge. A cannon of a shot from Richard Laurie would not be denied in the final two minutes, tying the game up at 13. Mate Rebelis continued to impress, scoring 8 goals against a talented Team Saskatchewan goalie.