Trent Ernst, Editor
After going undefeated through the regular season with a record of nine wins and one tie, the Tumbler Ridge Atoms won the North East Recreation Hockey League (NERHL) A banner.
Including tournaments, the team had a record of 25 wins, three losses and two ties, and were in good shape heading to Fort Nelson the weekend of February 25.
Coach Blaine Stokes says the kids worked hard all year. “These kids battled one another every practice to be the better player, so that when it comes to game time, they work with each other,” says Stokes. “They had great success. We had a couple new players join the team this year, one who had taken a couple of years off and decided to play again, while the other player had never played an organized hockey game, just practiced with his dad. With a great bunch of kids all ready we couldn’t ask for two better players to join the team.”
The NERHL has teams from Fort Nelson, Fort St. John, Tumbler Ridge and Taylor. In total, there are 11 teams in the league, with Dawson Creek and Fort Nelson fielding two teams apiece, and Fort St. John having five teams in the division.
Despite their strong showing in their regular season, or perhaps because of it, the Tumbler Ridge team lost their first game. “The kids came out strong in the first two periods,” says Stokes. “Coming out for the third period, we were up by two.” But the kids took their hands off the throttle, says Stokes and they wound up losing to the Fort St. John Alpine team, four to three.
Stokes says the loss shook the team up. “That was a big eye opener for the team knowing that we let that one slip away on us and it could cost us the playoffs,” he says.
The loss galvanized the team, who regrouped and came out very strong for the second game, winning two to one vs Fort St. John C4.
They also won their third game, blowing out the Fort Nelson Normandeu team, ten to one.
The fourth game was against the second Fort Nelson team, the Elks, which they won seven to three, and, due to the mysteries of the round robin formula, had to play the Elks again in the final game. “The top five teams in the league play off for the A banner and the other four teams play off for the B banner,” says Stokes. “The top two teams in the A side play off for first place. After the round robin we were in first place, the Elks were in second place, so the top two teams moved on for the final game.”
While the Tumbler Ridge team handled the Elks handily in their earlier match-up, the Elks dug deep and fought hard, trading shots, trading goals the whole game. “The game was back and forth, end to end for 60 minutes,” says Stokes, and at the end of regulation play, it was tied.
The game went into Sudden Death overtime, with about two minutes left, the Elks got into penalty trouble, leaving them two players short.
Still, says Stokes, the Elks didn’t let up the pressure. “The face off was down in the Elks zone, and they got the puck out, heading down the ice. They got a good shot off, but it hit the cross bar and stayed out. The puck went into the corner, and we battled them for it. We got the puck out and heading down into Elks zone. There was a centering pass in front of the Elks net. One of the Elks players got in between the pass, and tried to shoot it away, but it went into the net.”
While it wasn’t the cleanest finish, it was a goal, and “any goal is a good goal,” says the coach.
“The bench went crazy, heading down to celebrate with their teammates,” he says. “What a crazy finish. It’s been a few years since there was a banner raised up in our barn, so hopefully we see all Raptors fans there when it goes up.”
While the players put their heart and soul into the season, says Stokes, they weren’t the only ones. “This season wouldn’t be so successful if it wasn’t for the parents, fans and the other coaches Will Howe, Brandon Moffat and Greg Hewitt.”