The Lakeland Jaguars U18s are on a mission this year heading into hosting Provincials – win it all for Darrell.
In early November, the team’s head coach Darrell Desjarlais passed away. A driving force in the Jaguars program for years and an invaluable coach for Cold Lake Minor Hockey, Desjarlais’ impact on his players and fellow coaches will be felt for a long time.
This group wants to remember his legacy with a gold medal.
“These girls have been with Darrell pretty much through minor hockey. I’ve helped coach them on a few teams. A great coach, great guy, great leader,” said coach Jay Hall. “He’s gonna be sorely missed by the Jaguar program, but he’s gonna be remembered forever here. And this season is pretty much dedicated to Darrell and we’re gonna win it all for him.”
The Jags have played remarkable hockey throughout the season, winning their last 17 games in a row to win the league title, and only dropping two contests all season long.
For some, it’s a relief just to be able to have a normal season, especially for graduating third-year players, who missed out on Provincials in 2020 and essentially missed all of last year.
“When they told us we could have a pretty normal season I was very excited,” said third-year Ella Dole. “It’s my last year. So I can speak on behalf of I’m sure lots of third years that they’re very excited that it was a normal year for their last little bit.
“I got lots of family coming to watch. I’m very excited.”
The team is quite tight-knit as well and enjoys each other’s company off the ice. Coming from across the Lakeland with players from Cold Lake, Bonnyville, Lac La Biche, and Pierceland, their camaraderie has only grown.
As team captain Hannah Hall explained, it’s the friendships forged off the ice that is her favourite part of being a Jaguar.
“Everyone’s very positive. Nobody gets mad at each other or anything like that and most of us know each other, so we’re very comfortable with each other,” said Hall.
“I try to be close with everyone on the team and get to know them all. So I enjoy that part of it.”
That sentiment was echoed by coach Hall.
“It’s a close group. It’s been a joy to watch them and coach them like that. They work hard,” he said.
The Jags strung together victories over Dewberry, St. Paul, and Lloydminster to earn their way into Provincials with an ECAFHL league banner. With close games against the Blazers, it was satisfying for the team to beat their border city rivals.
“It was really good to beat them,” said Cierra Nuttall. “We played them a lot this year. So we know they’re a rough team and they’re really competitive. So it’s really good to just close that out with a win to be able to go to Provincials.”
The tournament begins Friday morning as the Jags take on Fairview in the kickoff contest at 11:00 a.m. The Jags then play that evening against Edmonton at 5:00 p.m.
On Saturday afternoon, the Jaguars face off against Beaverlodge at 11:45 a.m. All tournament games will be played at the Cold Lake Energy Center’s two rinks. Sunday will be the semi-finals and medal games.
It’s not just the U18 Jags competing at Provincials either – the U15 Jags returned from Provincials last weekend in Camrose. They went 1-2 at the tournament, just missing out on making the final day of competition.
Plus, the U13 Jaguars are off to Calgary this weekend to represent as a zone wildcard, just showing the strength of female hockey in the Lakeland area.
Locally, fans will be able to watch the province’s best at the U18B level this weekend, and a team that is gunning to cap it off for their coach – or in Sydney Desjarlais’ case, her dad.
“I think we have a good chance at coming out with the win. If we play like we have been playing for the past season or so I think we could definitely match up to them,” Sydney said.
“I honestly want to win Provincials for my dad…I would really like to take the win for him because I know it was a dream of his, especially at the home rink.”