The Lakeland Panthers U15AA skated away as tournament division champs on Sunday.
After narrowly finishing first in Rural Division “White” through the regular season with a record of 26-4-2, the Panthers travelled to Wainwright for a four-day tournament to crown a division champion.
Beginning with a pair of tight, one-goal wins – 3-2 vs Fort Saskatchewan and 2-1 vs the Wainwright Polar Kings – the Panthers knew they were advancing to the playoff round, but came up short 4-1 against Camrose on Saturday.
“After that game we went had some supper and had a little talk with one of our parents who gave us a little pep talk about his time in the military,” said Panthers coach Ryan Blocha. “And then we played some games as a group which kind of loosened us up and allowed us to refocus.”
From there, the Panthers went into the semi-finals against Lloydminster, the team they finished tied in points with during regular season play. It was another close game, but the Panthers won 3-1 to set up the final – a rematch to the team they lost to in Camrose.
This time things went to script with a big 6-3 victory.
“On Sunday, our team played awesome. We did the little things right. We were hard on pucks, our passing was crisp. We did little things to make it hard on the other team by getting pucks in deep and chasing them down and making them turn and earn everything they got,” said Blocha.
“And everybody just bought in right from A to Z. It was fun to watch. It was so fun on that Sunday. It was awesome.”
Winning the tournament means this upcoming weekend, the Panthers will host the Whitecourt TRAC Wolverines in a best-of-three to decide the NAHL’s Rural Conference Champion.
“We have not played Whitecourt at all this year. It just didn’t work out in the schedule,” said Blocha, who said the team practiced on Tuesday and will have a shorter practice on Thursday ahead of the series.
The Lakeland Panthers will get to play at home for the three games.
Friday night the Panthers vs Wolverines will be held at the Energy Center with puckdrop at 7:00pm. Then the series shifts to the RJ Lalonde Arena where the Wolverines will technically be the home team. Game 2 begins at 2:30pm on Saturday afternoon. Game 3 if necessary will happen at the Cenovus Arena in Bonnyville and is scheduled for noon on Sunday. If either team wins the first two games then the series is over and Game 3 will not be required.