While no one loves silver, a silver medal at Provincials for the Lakeland Jr. B Heat caps off a tremendous season, one of the best in the program’s history.
Despite a loss in the final to the Cranbrook Blackwolves 11-7, this season is a success for the Heat, who put the pieces together throughout the season to achieve this feat.
“I’m super proud of the boys and it’s been an amazing year,” coach Daryl Hodinsky told Lakeland Connect.
“The growth that the team had throughout the year was just phenomenal. From the beginning of the year to the end of the year, we were a totally different team and other teams saw that.
“We couldn’t ask for much better, obviously a gold medal would have been better, but were so close and next year is a different story.”
Over the weekend, the Heat were able to withstand a challenging round-robin in order to punch their ticket to the gold medal game.
This included a frustrating double overtime loss to the Lloyd Xtreme 10-9, an inspired effort but loss to eventual champs in the Cranbrook Blackwolves, and a tight 7-5 win over the Calgary Wranglers, which gave them just enough to ensure a medal.
“Lloydminster was crowned the North champions but we severely outplayed them, man the boys played good,” said Hodinsky.
Because of the round-robin format, goal differential was the crucial difference between making it to the final and missing out.
Heading into the final game against Calgary, the Heat knew Lloyd had dropped the ball and lost, meaning that if Lakeland could win by two goals or more, they would advance.
Conversely, the Wranglers needed a win to advance.
That set up the third period dramatics.
The Wranglers scored with just five seconds left in regulation to make it a 6-5 Heat lead. The Heat needed to score, but so did the Wranglers, otherwise, Lloyd would advance.
“They pulled their goalie for the faceoff and then we won the draw and we passed it down the floor, and we put the ball in the net with like 0.5 seconds left on the on the clock to seal the two goal win. It mathematically put us in just by like decimal points. So it was a tight, tight race for sure.
“Lloyd was in the stands watching and they stood up and cheered because they thought they were going into the gold medal game, and then when we scored they just got up and left.”
Lakeland Heat 2023 roster.
Cranbrook came into the tournament as the team to beat. They hadn’t lost a game in two years.
But the Heat forced them to earn it.
It was a one-goal after two periods, but in the end, a couple of quick strikes by the Blackwolves pushed to a 11-7 gold medal victory.
“This is probably the most complete team that we’ve had, offensively and defensively. We just had two complete units that worked quite well as a team. I would have to say it’s the best ball moving team that I’ve coached,” he said.
“The boys are already saying, laugh it up now Cranbrook, but it ain’t gonna happen next year.”
The Heat matches its best finish ever with this silver medal, something they’ve done on one previous occasion.
It’s a testament to the strong minor lacrosse program the Heat have built in Cold Lake and Bonnyville over the last several years.
Without those skills being developed, the Jr. B couldn’t achieve what it has.
Only one player ages out for next season, and Hodinsky says a few from midget level could be ready for junior ball.
“Without them we can’t survive and we need to pull kids from those teams as they age out. So know that obviously the minor program is doing their job and it just makes my job easier,” said Hodinsky.
Plenty of shoutouts were given including to the volunteers, sponsors, parents, and Cold Lake Jr. B Ice and Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs for lending their dressing rooms throughout the season.
“The biggest thing is to shoutout to the people that volunteered to make the season what it was. Thanks to all the sponsors for their contributions, which just made the team just a little bit different,.
“We’re just growing and another shoutout to the Junior B Ice and Cold Lake for letting us use their dressing rooms and same with the Bonnyville Pontiacs.”