The Alberni Valley Fusion finished the 2012/13 season on a 7 game win streak which propelled them into the gold medal game at the Richmond Ice Classic female hockey tournament during spring break. The tournament featured 73 teams in various divisions from across Canada and the USA. The Fusion competed in the midget division along with 12 other teams.
On Friday March 22nd game 1 of the tournament saw the Fushion face their arch-rivals the Sooke Thunderbirds who the Fushion had a regular season record of 0-2 against. In a closely contested game, Shayla Frechette scored 2 goals in a span of 34 seconds during the second period to take the lead heading into the third period after Sooke opened the scoring at the 13 minute mark of the first period. Goaltending at both ends of the ice was strong throughout the game which saw numerous great scoring chances for both teams. Frechette’s goals proved to be all that was needed to begin the tournament with a 2-1 victory and lay claim to the game MVP award. Following the game the team took over The Old Spaghetti Factory for a fabulous meal organized by team manager Leanne Savard.
Fusion goaltender Sarah Dawson stopped 3 breakaways in the opening minutes of game 2 vs the Surrey Falcons which was enough for the Surrey judge to choose her as the game MVP. Due to numerous injuries the Falcons played the game with a short bench which proved to cost them as the game wore on. Four goals by Brittney Savard along with markers by Mariah Westra, Sophie Vanderlee, Kaitlyn Heck, Angelle Welsh,Jessie Vissia and Nikki Buffie saw the girls cruise to an easy 10-1 victory over an exhausted opposition. Between games on Saturday the girls relaxed by racing around the track in go-carts on a warm spring day.
The Kelowna Wild provided opposition for the Fusion’s 2nd game of the day on Saturday evening. The Fusion opened the scoring with 4 minutes remaining in the first period with an unassisted goal on a great individual effort by Mariah Westra, followed a minute and 43 seconds later with a goal by Kaitlyn Heck assisted by Jessica Savard. Brittney Savard’s strong two-way play including scoring the insurance goal early in the 3rd period earned her game MVP honours. Sarah Dawson backstopped the team to a 3-0 shutout over a very worthy opponent. The victory ensured the Fusion a place in the semi-final game on Sunday morning.
Another Vancouver Island team, the Cowichan Valley Capitals who the Fusion had two wins against during league play also qualified for the semi-finals. The game between these two rivals took place at 9:00 am with the winner going on to play in the finals at 1:15 that afternoon. As expected the two teams battled for every inch of ice and at the end of the game the Fusion eked out a 3-2 win. Sophie Vanderlee opened the scoring at the 5 minute mark of the 1st period only to have Cow Valley tie it late in the period. Sierra Green broke the tie 5 minutes into the 2nd with Cowichan equalizing a minute and a half later. Green scored again with 7 minutes remaining in the 2nd to take the lead which the Fusion wouldn’t relinquish, Westra and Vanderlee picked up assists on both goals by Green. Strong defensive performances by vetrans Whitnie Senger, Tia Anderson, Nikki Buffie and rookie Carley Gitelman led the team into the gold medal game. With her relentless pursuit of the puck, Vanderlee was the recipient of the MVP award.
An all Island final between the Fusion and Sooke was set, with the latter having benefitted greatly from qualifying for the gold medal game on Saturday night. Going into the final game knowing that each player had to leave it all on the ice and getting a break or two go their way to win, the Fusion dominated Sooke in the 1st period, only to see a scoreless tie after one. Sooke opened the scoring with a powerplay goal at the 5 minute mark of the 2nd period. With the score still 1-0 and both teams trading chances, midway through the second on a freak play Sophie Vanderlee took a gratuitous spill at a great rate of speed head first into the end boards. She remained motionless on the ice while medical personal attended to her. During stoppage of play which lasted 30 minutes the Sooke team was granted permission to return to their dressing room to rest up. When play resumed it was clear that the wind was taken out of the sails of the Fusion team who gave up a two man advantage powerplay goal late in the 2nd period. Sooke capitalized on another two man advantage midway through the 3rd to seal the gold medal victory. Arguably, Vanderlee was the player who the Fusion could least afford to lose as she often provided the team with a much needed spark with her relentless skating style. Fortunately, after being taken by ambulance to Children’s Hospital, Vanderlee was released later that night with relatively minor injuries, from which she has now fully recovered. Jamie Vissia’s strong defensive play earned her the game MVP award. Although the gold medal was their goal, the Fusion can take great pride in the way they played out their season, winning 7 of their last 8 games and a silver medal around their necks.
This season will be the last for nine graduating players many who have laced up the skates together since kindergarten, their leadership will be missed. However, the future of midget female hockey looks bright as three underage players earned game MVP’s in Richmond. Jamie Vissia, Brittney Savard and Sarah Dawson who led last years female bantam team to a Vancouver Island championship, will again lead a very young team into the 2013/14 season with Mariah Westra being the seasons only graduating player. The Fusion owe a huge debt of gratitude to coaches, Andre Savard, Aaron Vissia, Bill Welsh, Heather Senger and Hubert Vanderlee along with team manager Leanne Savard for the countless hours they put in to make it all possible.