With a product of the Kerry Park Minor Hockey Association leading the way, the South Island Royals captured the provincial championship in midget A female hockey last month.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this group of athletes,” head coach Chris Atchison said of the team made up of players from everywhere on the Island south of Ladysmith, including Kerry Park’s Brooklyn Paisley and Lake Cowichan’s Emily Vaughn. “We had a really strong year.”
The Royals, who also called on affiliate goalie Arica Windsor from the Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey Association, dominated their age group from start to finish, beginning with tournament wins in Kelowna and Richmond, and ending the year with a record of 42 wins, eight losses and six ties.
A trip to provincials was a given from the start of the season for both the Royals and the North Island Impact, although South Island still did beat North Island 2-0 in a best-of-three playoff series to determine the top seed from the Island.
At provincials, the Royals ended up in what Atchison called the “Group of Death” — the pool that would eventually produce the two tournament finalists.
“There were two pools, and one of them was noticeably tougher,” Atchison said.
For their first game, the Royals drew Williams Lake, a team they had developed a rivalry with after meeting in the finals of two other tournaments. Williams Lake was ahead late in the game, but South Island scored with less than two minutes left to earn a 1-1 tie.
“It was a tie that felt like a win,” Atchison said.
Their next opponent was Surrey, another familiar foe for the Royals.
“Next to Williams Lake, they were the biggest thorn in our side,” Atchison said.
Surrey took a 3-0 lead, but Paisley scored with five seconds left in the second period, then assisted on South Island’s three unanswered third-period goals as they won 4-3.
South Island clinched first place in their pool by beating an academy team from the Kootenays 6-1 as Paisley scored two, including the game winner, and assisted on another.
“They were a good team, well-coached with strong players, but our girls were on a mission,” Atchison recalled.
In the crossover semifinal, Richmond was no match for South Island. Paisley scored a pair and added an assist as the Royals won 4-0 to punch their ticket to the final, where they faced another team from the “Group of Death” after Surrey got past Kamloops in the other crossover game.
Surrey’s goalie was outstanding in the final as her team took a 1-0 lead in the first period. South Island tied the game with a powerplay goal midway through the second, then went ahead on a goal by alternate captain Shayla Brown early in the third and never looked back. Paisley assisted on both South Island goals in the final.
Both South Island players who call the Cowichan Valley home played integral roles in the Royals’ championship win.
Vaughn was in her first year with the team and second year of midget eligibility, and emerged as a key contributor.
“She was an unknown to me coming into the season, but she was an incredible find for this team for her work ethic, team play, growth and tenacity,” Atchison said of the Lake Cowichan product. “She was an integral part of all our games in the championship. There were a number of players who contributed despite not being on the scoresheet, and she was one of them.”
Paisley, a second-year Royal, led the provincial tournament in scoring with seven assists and 12 points in five games, and tied teammate Brown for the goal-scoring lead with five. Atchison was full of praise for the Kerry Park product.
“In that age group, she is the most spectacular player, and one of the most spectacular athletes I’ve ever coached,” he said. “She’s very skilled, and she has the ability to rise to the occasion, to put the team on her shoulders and just perform. Brooklyn is easily a player who could have played with the AAA Seals if she wanted. She should get lots of looks at the U18 program.
“She’s a kid who doesn’t take herself too seriously, but when she laces up her skates, she has determination and passion and when she puts it all together, it’s really special to watch. You don’t have to say a lot to her; she knows what’s expected and delivers.”
Most of this year’s Royals team is pretty young, with just four players aging out, and a strong crop coming up from the bantam ranks, so another provincial banner isn’t out of the question. It’s all part of continuing to grow the girls’ game on the Island.
“The more we can do to give female hockey players opportunities to play on Vancouver Island, the better,” Atchison said.