While it didn’t finish necessarily as the team hoped, the U13 Bonnyville Pontiacs still finished as league champs and put together an impressive season.
The Pontiacs went through the regular season with a 28-4-1 record and captured the U13 Tier I NEAHL banner in late March.
As coach Chad Mercier explained, the year began with a surprise in the aspect of being able to tier up during the exhibition.
“Just like any other team, I think you start the year and nobody really knowing what to expect. And especially with this group, in the sense that a lot of these kids were never part of the same teams in the past, they were kind of a brand new team, a brand new group that has never played together,” said Mercier.
“We started exhibition off in the Tier 2, system, and we won some games, got moved up to the Tier I partway through exhibition, and kind of worked their way up the table to finish, not only first, but also go through the league playoffs and find a way to win a league championship.
“A lot of the credit just goes to the effort and camaraderie that these kids had and how they came together through the year, and their willingness just to push through their comfort zones to continue to get better each and every day. I’ve been fortunate, I’ve spent a ton of time in the game of hockey and for me over the years, this was a real special group to coach,” he said.
The team finished the season with nine straight games en route to the league championships. Matched up against the Meadow Lake Stampeders in the semi-finals, they took them down in a pair of one-goal wins 5-4 and 4-3.
That set up a final against the St. Paul Canadiens. And again, it was a pair of one-goal wins 4-3 and 6-5 that sealed the banner for Bonnyville.
With a few weeks off, they travelled up to Grande Prairie for U13 Tier I Provincials. But 11-1 and 6-3 losses out of the chute put them out of contention.
“Heading into Provincials, it wasn’t the result that we want or thought that we could attain. Probably the three week break didn’t help and then we had to shake off some rust early in the tournament, and unfortunately, it was a little bit too little, too late,” said Mercier.
However, Mercier was proud to see how their team played in the final game against Sherwood Park, a 6-2 to close out the season.
“One of the defining moments for this team was the last game of Provincials, really it was a nothing game, it would have been very easy to go through the motions in that game, but they come up with the strongest effort as a tournament, and one of the strongest efforts of the year to end on a real high note. That’s what it meant to these kids. And that’s just the way they were, the way they went about everything every single day, truly was impressive,” he said.
“I think the other part that gets missed sometimes is the parent group should get a lot of credit also in the sense of they allowed their kids and give their kids permission to struggle through some adversity and get out of their comfort zones for growth. That’s not always easy from a parenting standpoint. And so, overall, I think it was a team effort from that and the kids deserve, obviously, the ultimate credit.”