By @MichaelCaples –
For the Belle Tire ’03 team, the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament title came down to the final second – literally.
Coach Ryan Barnes said it was a difficult thing to watch from the bench, as an impressive play by the Czech Knights opposition led to a “point-blank” scoring chance as the clock ticked down.
Yet the Belle Tire team – leading 3-2 at the time – were bailed out by goaltender Kaidan Mbereko, who stopped the game’s final shot and preserved victory for his club.
“It was really a storybook ending,” Barnes said. “Our goaltender came up with a huge save with a second left on the clock, and from where we were watching on the bench, it didn’t look like a good situation for us. He just made an incredible save to ensure that we got the win. It was a storybook ending, that’s for sure.
“As a coach, you’re on the bench, you see the play develop, and like I said, it wasn’t a good feeling sitting there watching it. Credit to our goalie coach for having these guys prepared, Stan Matwijiw, and like I said, it wasn’t a good feeling watching that guy go and in get a scoring chance, but it was an incredible feeling when he came up with the save and for us to celebrate shortly after, it still hasn’t sank in yet. It’s unbelievable.”
Barnes – a Detroit Red Wings draft pick and Grand Rapids Griffins alum – said the team’s victory came in a championship game full of momentum swings.
“They scored two quick goals in the second period,” Barnes said. “We made a couple of mistakes and they’ve got a lot of skill and they made us pay for them. We battled back. We got on the power play and made it 2-1 going into the break, got a big goal with six and a half minutes to go to tie it and then Dylan Duke got the winner with three minutes to go. There were a lot of ups and downs in the game, that’s for sure. We even had an empty-net goal, we had a two-on-one and it was an offsides call where our guy shot it and they called offsides on it so they waved off the goal that would have put us up 4-2.
“It was a very climatic ending to the tournament.”
Winning was icing on the cake for an already incredible experience for his team, Barnes said. Despite an illustrious hockey career of his own, he never got to play in the Quebec tournament, adding to his own enjoyment of the tournament.
“It was something that these kids will never forget,” Barnes said. “Obviously winning the tournament is an amazing feeling, but just for all the teams participating, the billets, the volunteers, how deeply engrained in the culture the pee wee tournament is and the people of Quebec City and the way they embrace the families and the players everywhere you go – it was just an amazing environment to be in for 10 days. All the teams there, the pin trading, the different foods, it will be a time of their lives and something they’ll never forget. Obviously for us, winning made it all that much sweeter.”
And how was the Belle Tire squad about to accomplish the rare feat of surviving the Quebec tournament field of elite teams from across the globe?
“Really it was just playing as a team and sticking together,” Barnes said. “We really wanted to be a team that was hard to play against, forechecked hard and backchecked hard and played as a five-man unit on the ice offensively and defensively. We talk about our Belle Tire identity, and that’s just being a hard team to play against. The boys, obviously to win a championship, you need all hands on deck to buy in, and they certainly did that. Even just the resiliency, the New York Rangers team they played was a terrific team, we met them in the third round, they could have been a team going in that was certainly right up there with us, we got down one against them and battled back and then to do it again against the Czechs, these are 12-year-old kids, emotions and momentum is big, so to find a way for this group to stay calm and be resilient and fight back, I was really impressed.”