The Neepawa Tigers found no shame in being the consolation runners-up in the Victoria Inn Division at the 22nd annual Victoria Inn high school hockey tournament this weekend.
The Tigers admitted they had an incredibly difficult path through the 24-team tournament that features some of the best high school hockey teams in the province.
The squad ended the event with a hard-fought 4-3 shootout loss to the John Tayler Pipers in the consolation final where Garett Rempel forced extra time with a power-play marker with 1:28 left in the game.
Jesse Adams and Shane Levandosky also scored for Neepawa.
While the Tigers originally hoped to win the whole event, they’re happy with how things worked out overall.
"I think we played better and better every game," Rempel said. "Those are some of the top teams in the province we played and we’re just small-town Neepawa going against AAA or AAAA schools that take in over 2,000 kids. … I think it’s pretty good for us being a small town."
Neepawa got through Winnipeg’s Vincent Massey Trojans and Winkler’s Garden Valley Zodiacs just to make it into the top playoff division. They followed that up with a 3-1 loss to the Oak Park Raiders in their quarter-final matchup and a 3-0 win against the St. John’s Ravenscourt Eagles in the consolation semifinal. Riley Kolesar scored against Oak Park. Blair Krutkewich, Brendan Harris and Kyle McDonald scored for the Tigers in the consolation semifinal.
Kolesar was named a tournament all-star.
Tigers head coach Mike Adams believes the tournament was a huge learning experience for his team. He said his players learned that they can play with the some of the best teams in Manitoba, but that the games also emphasized how important it is to do the little things on the ice, as they were magnified against the Winnipeg squads.
If Neepawa can continue to play like it did all weekend at the Keystone Centre arenas, then Adams believes his team has a chance to repeat as Westman High School Hockey League and AA provincial champions. However, he knows it won’t be easy.
"This year is going to be harder than ever," he said. "We definitely have a target on our back. We don’t get any soft games anymore. Everyone has us circled on the calendar and they want to be the team that knocks Neepawa out. The boys know that and they try to get focused to play every game.
"It’s a pretty long season though and we have our ups and downs like everyone else, but overall we try to stay focused."