The Wickenheiser Female World Hockey Festival, better known as Wickfest, has become one of the biggest hockey tournaments in the world just for girls.
It’s become a must-attend event for teams from Yellowknife, and that was the case again this year.
The 2022 edition kicked off last weekend in Calgary following a two-year absence due to Covid-19. Two teams from the capital made the trip courtesy of Summit Air: the DT Electric Junior Females and the 2023 Canada Winter Games women’s team. Both teams managed to hit the win column in their pool, with the DT Electric squad coming home with a silver medal.
There is a bit of a twist when it comes to the DT Electric girls, though. They played in what was known as the Sizzle Sticks Female Hockey Tournament, which was happening the same weekend as Wickfest.
Coach Ryan Nichols said that happened because of the numbers game.
“The U11 girls is happening this coming weekend (in Calgary), but there were so many teams signed up and so we entered this,” he said. “We still got to do everything involved with Wickfest: the opening ceremony, get the swag bags, meet Hayley Wickenheiser, all of it.”
The girls started in the round-robin with three games and they won all three: a 3-2 victory over the Mexico Eagles, 7-1 over the Jr. Inferno Heat from Calgary and 5-1 over the Jr. Inferno Blaze, also from Calgary.
“That first game, we got two goals in the last three minutes, so a great comeback,” said Nichols.
The playoff format saw the top two teams in the division play it out for gold and that meant DT Electric would take on Mexico again. It didn’t go the same way as the first meeting, as Mexico came out on top, 5-1, to claim the title.
Nichols said at 2-1 late in the third period, he had the Yellowknife girls try and press for the equalizer, but it didn’t work.
“They ended up popping a couple on us late,” he said. “At that age, they don’t know all the systems off by heart, but they played really well.”
As for playing a team from Mexico, Nichols said his players were surprised to hear they would be facing opponents from there.
“They had one really good player we had to keep our eyes on,” he said. “Their goalie stood about three-and-a-half feet tall and she was really good. They rolled two lines all game, so their best players were out every other shift. We watched them in the warm-up and knew we had to be ready. We didn’t take them for granted at all.”
There are 34 players split into two teams among the DT Electric corps and Nichols said picking who would go came down to who could make it.
As for the Canada Winter Games crew, they competed in the U18 division and finished with a record of one win and three losses, though it could have been very different had some bounces gone their way.
They started off against the Jr. Inferno Bruins in the round-robin and dropped a narrow 3-2 decision, but bounced back to beat Team Oregon, 4-0. Kami Gostick turned everything aside to get the shutout in that one.
Head coach Kaylee Grant said this was the first chance the girls have had to play together as a team and it took the first period in their opening game for them to get on the same page.
“About a quarter of our team is in between U13 and U15, so definitely a learning curve,” she said. “We kept it close in the first game and played really well in the second game.”
The next two contests for the ladies finished with identical 3-0 defeats at the hands of the Jr. Inferno Chaos out of Calgary and the Prince George Capitals from B.C.
Grant said the latter two squads were the ones who ended up playing for gold and were tougher games for the girls.
“Our skills were similar, but we ended up in the (penalty) box a bit more,” she said. “We had some good successes and they played really well together as a team. Having the younger girls play at the U18 level was good for them to get that experience and we as a coaching staff weren’t disappointed at all.”