Tri­umph and heart­break in ball hockey

Avalon team basks in a golden glow; host team loses bronze in over­time thriller

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER THE COM­PASS

It’s hard to deny that the Con­cep­tion Bay North re­gion has an abun­dance of tal­ent among its young ath­letes, and ob­servers need not look any fur­ther than sport of ball hockey.

Head­ing into Wed­nes­day’s 2012 NL Sum­mer Games boys’ ball hockey ac­tion, both the host team, fea­tur­ing ath­letes from Car­bon­ear and Har­bour Grace, and Team Avalon, based out of Up­per Is­land Cove and show­cas­ing play­ers from Bay Roberts to Job’s Cove, were vy­ing for medals.

Team Avalon did bat­tle with the rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Eastern for the gold medal, while the host met Labrador for the right to wear bronze, both at the S.W. Moores Memo­rial Sta­dium in Har­bour Grace. The drama of the gold medal game hung in the air. In the stands, mem­bers of the Avalon base­ball team — who would later set­tle for sil­ver — cheered on their ball hockey coun­ter­parts.

Dual chants of “Let’s go Eastern!” and “Avalon!” res­onated through the sta­dium.

The two teams were dead­locked at the end of the first half at 00.

“We had a lit­tle trou­ble at the start,” said Avalon goal­tender Ri­ley Akerman. “We were all over them, but we couldn’t pop one in.”

Coach Brian Gree­ley said he and head coach Neil Shute told their play­ers to keep push­ing.

“We said that once we get the first one it was all go­ing to fall into place,” he said.

It was not un­til min­utes into the sec­ond half that Avalon broke the dead­lock.

Vic­to­ria’s Rod­ney Slade put Avalon up 1-0, af­ter he took a pass from Noah Dono­van and hit the back of the net.

“I usu­ally don’t score like that, I usu­ally fans on it,” he said min­utes af­ter re­ceiv­ing his gold medal. “This time I put in the back of the net. It’s hard to ex­plain, just with the ex­cite­ment and jump­ing up and down.”

Avalon went up 2-0 af­ter An­drew Roberts took a pass from Ryan Daw­son and buried it.

The next 10 min­utes proved to be a pres­sure cooker for Avalon as Eastern poured on the pres­sure.

One two sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions, Eastern thought it was got­ten on the score­board.

A ball that was kicked through Akerman’s legs was called back. A cou­ple of min­utes af­ter the non-goal, Eastern thought it had an­other one when a ball snuck through Akerman again but Macken­zie Dob­bin was there to knock the ball out of harm’s way.

Gree­ley could not say enough about the goal­tend­ing he got from Akerman.

“He was a late ad­di­tion to the team, but we couldn’t have done it with­out him,” Gree­ley said. “I think he let in three goals the en­tire tour­na­ment. He was a mon­ster for us.”

For Gree­ley, the gold medal vic­tory makes up for a lost op­por­tu­nity in 2004 when he was an ath­lete in the Games.

Gree­ley had been on the ball hockey team that year, but made the de­ci­sion to play base­ball in­stead. The ball hockey went on to cap­ture the gold.

“It wasn’t a re­gret at the time, but look­ing back on it, I al­ways wanted to get back,” he said. “I knew I wouldn’t get back as a player, but I got the gold now and I can’t wait to do it again.”

It was also a note­wor­thy vic­tory for Shute. Twenty years ear­lier, Shute was a mem­ber of the host boys’ ball hockey team that won gold at the 1992 NL Sum­mer Games. It was also the last time the Games were held in Car­bon­ear and Har­bour Grace.

Slade said he could not de­scribe the feel­ing af­ter the fi­nal bell sounded.

“It’s like Christ­mas morn­ing,” he said. “It’s like when you wake up and you see all of your presents there.”

Heart­break city

The host ball hockey team suf­fered a heart­break­ing loss min­utes prior to the start of the cham­pi­onship fi­nal.

Trail­ing Labrador 3-2 with mere sec­onds re­main­ing, Ryan Slade of Perry’s Cove blasted the equal­izer, send­ing the Sta­dium into a frenzy and forc­ing over­time.

But hopes were dashed in ex­tra time when Bran­don Ivany slid a re­bound past a div­ing Michael Hand­cock to win it for Labrador.

Matthew Legge and Slade had the other goals for the host team, as it and Labrador traded leads prior to Slade’s last sec­ond marker. Ben Roberts, Jef­frey White and An­drew Tee scored for Labrador. “I’m proud of our guys,” said host team head coach Matthew Thomey af­ter the loss. “They worked hard, they didn’t give up and they showed a lot of char­ac­ter.”

nmercer@cb­n­com­pass.ca

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