During the Wadena Minor Sports Association’s windup and annual celebration held on March 30 with a house full of team members, parents and sponsors, the organization reported growing numbers of participants this past year. With diminishing numbers in different age groups, clubs in the area have had to work hard to keep numbers to a point where they can ice a team at every level. A few years ago the local Bantam team was in jeopardy of not existing but, through the diligence of volunteers, a team was iced that consisted of players from about seven different communities.
Such is the new reality for many; however, Wadena’s ability to attract players to both hockey and softball has not only boosted numbers but has strengthened the club for perhaps years to come. Part of that success is derived from the introduction of new programs over the past year. Two of those include the Learn to Play program and the all-girls’ Wadena Wildcat team, both under the spotlight throughout the evening.
In the awards portion of the program, up first was the recognition of the Wadena Wildcat Squirts softball team for achieving provincial “B” wins two years running. Coach Darin Faubert spoke highly of the now-experienced young players.
Wadena Wildcats Squirts Softball: back row, left to right, Coach Darin Faubert,
Josh Ochitwa, Brayden Jones, Winston Byman, Brett Fogg, Carter Peterson,
Keenan Sowa, Wyatt Jack; front row, Griffen Helberg, Skyler Maleschuk,
Koby Faubert, Blake Tokar.
“This year we had two teams,” said Faubert, “ and we practised together for three months.”
While playing at the Hustler tournament in Saskatoon, Faubert said the highlight was playing at Gordie Howe Bowl and Bob Van Impe Field and, having made a name for themselves, the winning Squirts have been invited out. “For their efforts,” said Faubert, “Softball Saskatchewan sent them embroidered ball bags. We are proud of where we have been but we’ve got places to go, as the team has been invited to play a tournament this year at Irma (Alberta).”
In hockey, the new Learn to Play candidates were onstage next, all chosen as recipients of this year’s Spirit Award.
“The Spirit Award is for someone or something that stood out this year and the 2014-15 award goes to the Learn to Play team,” said Jody Christianson. “They got the chance to play hockey without any pressure. These kids had fun learning the basic skills of hockey like skating, face-off positions, skating with the puck and shooting on the net.”
The 11 first-time players each received a medal and certificate, while kudos were given to head coach Miles Johnson, assistant coaches Derek Ekstrom, Lee Johnson and Jody Christianson, who had help from Carter Petersen, team manager Julie Johnson and treasurer Marcy Comfort. The program has done so well this past season that the club has stated it will be available again next year.
Wadena Minor sports executive member
Jody Christianson hands out this year’s
Spirit Awards to the Learn to Play team,
among them, left to right, Rylan Germain,
Kade Comfort, Logan Christianson and Eden Ekstrom.
“We decided to create this program because of the large number of kids six-and-under that had an interest in learning to play hockey,” said Coach Ekstrom. “At the start of the year, most kids would have a parent on the ice with them and would make about half of the practice. By the end, they would be on their own and would have no problem making it the entire practice, making sure that they didn’t miss their favourite game. This is why (Coach) Miles pointed out that if there was a Most Improved award at this age, they all would deserve it.
“We even played a few games this year,” he added. “We played Wynyard’s Learn to Play twice and the moms once and are proud to say that we went undefeated.”
As for the Junior Novice players, with 25 registered the coaches decided to divide them into two teams, the Jaguars and the Panthers.
“The Jaguars had a very successful season playing about 15 games and going to five tournaments,” said coach Derek Ekstrom. “We had a great group of kids who were eager to learn and easy to coach. Definitely the highlight of our year was winning the 16-team Yorkton tournament . . . Every game we were in was very close and they never gave up for a second. One of the other team’s coaches after the tournament said that what separated us from the other teams was our teamwork and passing.” Ekstrom was assisted by Ryan Ekstrom and Kelly Tokarchuk as manager. Coach Jody Christianson spoke on behalf of the Panthers and also reported a very successful season.
“The Panthers had a great year, winning almost all of our games and with everyone on the team contributing,” he said. “We were playing our best hockey going into the Yorkton tourney and were hoping to meet the other Wadena team in the final, but would like to congratulate the Jaguars on their A-side win.” Helping Christianson were Kent Armbruster and Layne Kapeluck with special mention to the Jaguar coaches, plus Terry Sobchyshyn, Greg Prevost, Greg Tokarchuk and Noel Parish. Sarah Sobchyshyn acted as team manager.
Head coach Ryan Baker said of the Novice team that they were “a young team and they always kept smiling,” no matter what had transpired on the ice. Assisting Baker was Carmen Sowa, while Stacy Prevost was the team manager.
“This year’s Novice team was a very young team with a ton of potential. It was an awesome group of hockey players to coach and we thoroughly enjoyed having the Kelvington crew join us this year. I had some great laughs with these kids and I am truly looking forward to watching this team dominate their league next year,” said Sowa.
Shawn Berezuik stated on behalf of the winning Atoms team that, despite the team’s success, it was not an easy win.
“It was a pretty competitive league this year. We finished 13-4-3, played three tournaments and won the A final,” said Berezuik. “We learned a lot from our wins and losses and it was not easy to win the trophy this year.”
Amid the seriousness, however, they tried to come up with a winning strategy, so Berezuik promised the players that for every win in the playoffs, one player would get to shave his head. In the end, he pulled off his ever-present tuque and explained that his current hairstyle was due to the fact that three players were allowed to do the shaving.
The players all received medals, a copy of the front page of the Wadena News upon which the team was featured, and black pillowcases sporting an embroidered Wildcat logo.
As for the Pee Wees, Coach Faubert thanked the Kelvington players for joining the team. Faubert commended the players, saying they helped to “make our sports organization and our team better.”
“The Pee Wees had an excellent season. We started at 0-6 and finished 10-1, winning the consolation side,” he said. “We needed to win seven in a row so we tried a playoff structure — we needed to send a message.” The strategy for the team, explained Faubert, was to focus on winning 12 straight periods. They ended up outscoring their opponents by 18 and losing only the last game.
“Hockey is a stressful sport. There’s a lot of pressure put on some people when it comes to this sport — sometimes we forget it’s a game, but this group was fun,” concluded Faubert. He was assisted throughout the season by Kel Melnyk, Greg Hart, Carmen Sowa and Derek Ochitwa. The team’s manager was Lisa Ochitwa, with Jackie Faubert as treasurer.
Bobbi Flanders, on behalf of the Bantams, said this year the team included players from Rockford, Kelvington, Margo, Rose Valley, Yellow Quill and Wadena. The team ended their season at 14-1 with only one controversial goal (in the consolation final against Humboldt Broncos) separating them from the trophy. Head coach for the team was Byron Lazar, assisted by Shawn Berezuik.
The inaugural Wadena Wildcat Girls were introduced with comments by Carmen Sowa. The team was started by Sowa and Meaghan Bilokraly, who felt it was time for a girls’ team as interest had been building, especially with more girls signing up over the past couple years.
Sowa reported that the 18 girls who signed up played four games, plus two games against the parents. “The girls were a very sportsmanlike team,” she stated. There were too many apologies, too much “picking up sticks for others,” as the girls tended to be too polite, she said. “So when we voted for sportsmanlike, it was actually for the most ‘unsportsmanlike’ player we could think of!”
“The coaches were very patient with us,” said player Courtney Bilokraly. “Most of the girls had never played hockey. It was a fun year.”
The Midgets were “the most dedicated players so we haven’t awarded a Most Dedicated or Most Improved player this year,” said coach Ryan Christianson. “We had a couple of tough games but everybody would show up.”
The Pee Wees and Midgets were part of the Last Mountain Minor Hockey League. The Novice, Atoms and Bantams were part of the North Central Minor Hockey League.
The Wadena Minor Sports executive includes president Trent Murray, secretary Miles Johnson, treasurer Kent Armbruster, equipment manager Jody Christianson and directors Michael Jones, Derek Ekstrom, Lisa Ochitwa and Ryan Baker.
By Alison Squires