What a difference a year makes.
The Glovertown Tornadoes girls' under-12 team competed in its first official hockey game last year, losing to the Clarenville Caribous by a considerable margin.
Back then, the goal of coach Troy Powell was to teach the girls about offside and icing. Today, however, the girls have gone on to bigger and better things - including winning gold in the U-12 division at the eighth annual Comfort Inn Female Hockey Tournament in Gander over the weekend.
In the championship game against the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts Sunday morning, Abigail Hiscock scored three unassisted goals to lead the Tornadoes to a 3-2 win in front of a boisterous Glovertown cheering section.
After the game, the girls took turns taking pictures with the trophy, the first of what the coaching staff hopes to be many more pictures in the future.
"I'm very proud of our girls. They've come a long way," said manager/trainer Sue Sweeney-Janes. "We put a team together last year and the girls came out holding their sticks like shovels, and this year we started the season by winning a gold medal. The girls have their heads in the game, they're always learning about the game, and they're looking out for each other."
Although winning gold was a new experience for the Tornadoes, goaltender Hannah Crewe endured something she'll never forget. This is her first year strapping on the glove and blocker, and the eight-year-old shined bright in her first tournament between the pipes for the Tornadoes.
She stood strong in the final minutes of Sunday's gold-medal game to preserve the win, and Sweeney-Janes and the rest of the Tornadoes were appreciative of the goaltender's efforts.
"She played excellent for us, and I'm really proud of her," said Gambo's Haylee Wade. "She's a brand new goalie, but she practices so much and always tries her best, and she did a great job for us this weekend."
Because a rookie goalie was leading the team on the ice during the tournament, the coaching staff reminded the players to be extra vigilant on defence. The players were told to help their goalie as much as they could, and Sweeney-Janes couldn't have been happier with how her girls responded.
"We have four new girls on the team that we just met. We only had one practice with the three of them, and one just showed up for the games," said Sweeney-Janes. "We have a new goalie who's a little unsure of herself, so we told the girls to protect the goalie, and we told them this isn't a one-girl show - it takes an entire team to do well and it takes a complete effort. They really pulled together as a team."
Unlike other teams that consist of players from one or two municipalities, the Tornadoes include girls from more than five towns.
They come from Glovertown, Eastport, Lumsden, Greenspond, New-Wes-Valley and Gambo, and for many of the girls, it was their first time playing on an organized hockey team.
New-Wes-Valley's Katie Faulkner, nine, is one of the newcomers, and remembers when she first stepped inside the team's dressing room to a group of people she didn't know. That isn't the case anymore.
"It's really good now that I know them," said the young hockey player. "We're all friends now, and we're having a lot of fun playing hockey...a lot of fun."
True, the girls are having a lot of fun learning about the great Canadian game of hockey. Although Faulkner and Wade are yet to reach their teenage years, they both know, and are thankful, to those that help teach them the game they both love.
"We really want to thank all of our coaches," said the girls. "They have been excellent coaches, and they've been teaching us a lot of skills like skating and stick handling."
Final Flyer flurry
After three round-robin games, the Gander Flyers and Tornadoes finished with identical 1-1-1 records.
However, after the Tornadoes defeated the Clarenville Caribous 6-1 - the same team that defeated the Tornadoes last year - the Tornadoes advanced to the championship game on account of a goals for/against tiebreaking procedure.
The Flyers opened the tournament against the eventual champions from Glovertown, where Flyer Kendra John proved strong hockey skills run in the family. The younger sister of minor hockey standouts Hunter and Keesha John, Kendra scored all six Flyers' goals in a 6-6 tie. Hiscock scored three times for the Tornadoes, while Paige Gordon, Mikela Rowsell and Jenni Simpson scored singles.
John continued her torrid scoring pace in the second game against the Caribous. She tallied four goals in the Flyers' 6-3 win, while Emily Templeman and Victoria Blake added singles.
The Flyers completed its Comfort Inn schedule against the Cataracts, who took down the local U-12 squad 10-4. John recorded her third hat trick of the tournament in the game, while Julia Norman added a single.