The Fraser Valley Thunderbirds faced a must-win game.
The Thunderbirds — with a depleted line-up and with just one point in their past five games — were sitting in sixth place in the BC Major Midget Hockey League and the cut-off was approaching to see which five teams from the league would earn invitations to the prestigious Mac’s Midget AAA Tournament in Calgary.
The team responded with a huge 7-2 road victory in Prince George against the Cariboo Cougars, who at that point were sitting in first place. And since then, the Thunderbirds have gone 10-1 to climb into third place in the league at 16-6-1-1.
“That (victory) was a big turning point,” said Fraser Valley first-year head coach Peter Hay.
“At the end of the day, it was one of those things where we went through that adversity and then bounced back.”
This marks the first-time in the Thunderbirds’ 13-year history that the team has been invited to the Mac’s tournament.
This marks the 40th year of the tournament with 33 teams hitting the ice in both the male and female divisions. As well as teams from North America, there are also entries from Belarus and Hungary.
Qualifying for the competition was one of Hay’s pre-season goals for the squad as he knew they had the talent.
“But you never know how it is all going to connect when you have multiple parts, with team chemistry and everything,” he said. “I think our team is really coming into a whole other level right now.”
The Thunderbirds — made up of players from Langley, Aldergrove, Maple Ridge, Mission, Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Hope — boast two of the league’s top scorers as Gage Goncalves (Mission) is third with 17 goals and 47 points in 24 games while Justin Plett (Abbotsford) is eighth with 21 goals and 34 points in 22 games.
Fraser Valley boasts strong offensive depth as they average 4.7 goals per game.
In addition to Goncalves and Plett, the team’s offence has been buoyed by recent addition Matthew Konrad (Abbotsford). In eight games, he has nine goals and 19 points.
The goaltending has also been strong, allowing 3.1 goals per game. That’s even more impressive when considering the team is primarily going with Dawson Pelletier (Hope) who has played 17 of the 25 games with his goaltending partner Alex Rolfe (Langley) on the shelf with injury.
Defensively, Will Dow-Kenny (Abbotsford) is averaging a point per game on the blue-line with four goals and 16 assists, and the addition of Travis Halladay (Chilliwack) has helped solidify the position. The six-foot-two, 220-pounder had played in nine games with the Langley Rivermen.
The team is coming off back-to-back victories over the weekend, 6-3 and 6-1 over the Vancouver Northwest Giants, which stretched Fraser Valley’s winning streak to six games. The team resumes league play on Jan. 12.
They fly to Calgary on Christmas Day and the tournament begins Dec. 26.
“For us to have the option to go to a world renowned tournament is a huge, huge step in the right direction for this program and for these kids,” Hay said about playing in such a heavily-scouted event.
“It opens a lot of doors for our kids with the opportunity to be seen by these scouts and maybe get an opportunity to play junior A in Alberta or Saskatchewan if BC Hockey or Western Hockey doesn’t work for them.”
“(And) talking to other teams that have had the experience, they all are saying this Mac’s experience actually gives them that jump start into the next half of the season.”