A great championship game provided the perfect final touch to a tremendous Family Day weekend of hockey, camaraderie and fundraising at Fuller Lake and the Cowichan Community Centre Arenas.
The Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey Association’s Memorial Under 18 C Hockey Tournament has been sorely missed the last three years due to COVID cancellations, but returned in a big way Friday through Family Day Monday, picking up right where it left off with enthusiastic participation from 15 teams – including eight from the Lower Mainland – and the boisterous support of parents and fans.
The final game pitted the Burnaby Bulldogs against the Cloverdale Colts C5 in a classic battle. The two teams were in the same Pool B for round robin play and fought to a tie earlier in the tournament.
The winner-take-all-rematch at Fuller Lake Arena also ended in a tie after regulation time, but this time there needed to be a clear decision. It went to a shootout and Burnaby’s Santiago Del Olmo – an international exchange student – scored the lone goal to give the Bulldogs a 3-2 victory.
Burnaby goalie Ben Waslen hadn’t been beaten in a shootout this season according to his coaches and wasn’t about to have the streak end now. Waslen stopped all three shots he faced to preserve the victory.
Burnaby trailed 2-1 in the third period, but another exchange student, Miguel Angel Ayuso Bellido, drew his team even with only 5:12 remaining in regulation time. Burnaby also received a late power play that carried over into the five-minute overtime, but there was no further scoring and that set the stage for the dramatic shootout.
“These guys, they’ve been working hard all year, working on consistent play and they bought in,” said Burnaby coach Mike Johnson.
“It’s been a rough season,” he added. “We had a lot of setbacks. We had injuries. We had three guys with concussions.”
Johnson was grateful for the competitive games against Cloverdale. They’re from different regions on the Lower Mainland and “we’ve never seen each other before,” he indicated.
The tournament itself was a winner on all accounts.
“It’s a fantastic well-run tournament,” praised Johnson. “It’s really fun to be here. Chemainus and Duncan are both really great towns.”
What sets the tournament apart from others is the memorial awards, with the names of seven honourees who lost their lives far too soon prominently etched on unique trophies. Players were truly honoured to be chosen for the seven prime awards.
Cowichan Valley players received two of the awards. Cowichan Valley C1s Owen Reid was the recipient of the Eric Kernachan (Karny) Award for fearless player and C1 teammate Hendrix Shannon the Ryan Clark Award for most outstanding goaltender.
Other major award winners were: Jett Schultz of Juan de Fuca (Caleb Kroffat Award for player with the most character); Kaitlin Crotenko of Semiahmoo (Christina McLeod Award for the player having the most passion for the game); Sam Spencelayh of Victoria (the Zak Andrews Mr. Personality Award); Allison Anctil of Juan de Fuca (the Paige Whitelaw Award for most sportsmanlike player); and Callum McDougall of Victoria (the Brayden Gale Award for the player with the most heart).
In addition, MVPs from each team in every game received commemorative tournament towels.
The tournament committee of Kathy and Dale Irving, Kristen Arnold, Petra van Deventer and new addition Kirstin Marshall have this event down to a fine science and it shows.
“Our families that helped us with 50-50s and choosing MVPs, they were wonderful,” said Kathy Irving. “That’s where our volunteers come from.”
The enormous job of hiring scorekeepers and timekeepers for all the games was handled by Jena Windsor.
And what would a tournament be without referees?
“The referees were awesome, everybody loved them and thought they did a really good job,” Irving noted.
About $1,400 was raised from the 50-50 draws throughout the tournament and duck toss (in Duncan only).
Of all the honourees, Eric Kernachan was one affected by mental health issues and the awareness has accelerated dramatically just since he died in 2016.
There’s now a Buddy Check for Jesse program in place to help coaches support mental health that was founded in Canada by Dr. Stu Gershman in memory of his son Jesse Short-Gershman, who died by suicide in October of 2014.
Rob Kernachan, Eric’s dad, thinks it’s a great thing to call more attention to mental health before a situation reaches tragic consequences.
“People are more atuned to everything these days,” he conceded.
The tournament provides wonderful memories of their loved ones for the families and an overall positive feeling.
“This is great coming out and watching this,” said Kernachan. “That’s what I missed the last three years.”
The Karny Award allowed him to develop a special relationship with Reece Lloyd, the previous recipient in 2019, and his family.
“We’ve been family friends ever since,” Kernachan pointed out. “I’ve been in contact with him in Facebook messages and stuff.”
On the ice, it was one action-packed game after another at both arenas.
Semiahmoo went 4-0 to top the standings in Pool A, Burnaby and Cloverdale C5 both went 3-0-1 that required a tiebreaker for Burnaby to finish ahead in Pool B and Victoria was 4-0 to lead Pool C.
In the semifinals, both games went to overtime, with Cloverdale prevailing over Semiahmoo and Burnaby defeating Victoria to earn the spots in the final.
The tournament was previously held during the spring break pre-COVID, but looks to have found a new spot on the Family Day weekend.
“We’d like to do it again next year,” said Kathy Irving. “We’d like to aim for Family Day weekend, but we do need help.”
Volunteers are always in short supply so they’re hoping more will come forward.