The 45th annual Hockey Brandon Tournament of Champions proved to be a huge confidence builder for the Parkland Bantam AAA Rangers on the weekend.
The Rangers knew they had a solid team coming into the event after topping the Winnipeg AAA Hockey League’s Bantam Division 1 West standings with a 22-5-1-4 record, but the tournament tests endurance. The Western Manitoba squad played five games in four days but the Rangers survived, going undefeated through the Bantam AAA event and beating the Interlake Lightning 6-5 in Sunday’s final at Westman Place.
"We’ve been thinking about this a lot and we finally did it," said Andrew Smelski, a 14-year-old defenceman from Dauphin.
<t$>Things weren’t looking good for the Rangers early in the final as they gave up a pair of markers in the opening frame, but Connor Dewar settled things down when he scored with 0.9 seconds left in the first period to cut the deficit to
2-1. The Rangers followed up on that momentum with four goals in the second period and withstood a late Lightning barrage to claim the trophy.
Dewar, Riley McKay, Lane Kirk and Tyler Jubenvill all finished with a goal and an assist for the Rangers, with Brendan Bogoslowski and Bradley Marshall rounding out the scoring.
The Rangers will treasure the Tournament of Champions banner, but they know it’s just a step towards their end goal of winning the rural provincial Bantam AAA hockey championship. That event will be in Portage la Prairie from March 14-16 and head coach Darren Webster knows his team can’t afford to sit on its laurels for the next four weeks.
"This is a stepping stone," he said. "Our goal every game is to become a little bit better. We’re a month away, but the problem is we’re not the only one getting better. Everyone is getting better, but this is huge confidence-wise. It’s really big for us."
Meanwhile, Brandon won the Female Peewee AA championship title, edging Winnipeg East 3-2 in the final.
Brandon’s boys’ teams finished fifth in the Bantam AAA Division with a 7-1 win over Central Plains in the consolation final, sixth in the Bantam AA Division with a 6-3 loss to Seine River in the consolation final, and sixth in the Bantam A Division following a 5-1 defeat at the hand of The Pas in the consolation final. Northwestern Ontario took the Bantam AA crown with a 7-2 to win over Peace River, while Virden beat Estevan 9-4 in the Bantam A Division final.