AJ Sander will be adding Fort St. John to his favourite B.C. destinations.
The 2018 Richmond Sports Wall of Fame inductee has nothing but good memories about the northeastern town after watching his team dominate B.C. Hockey’s Provincial Midget Girls Championships.
The Richmond Ravens put the finishes touches on a terrific campaign by capturing the eight-team tournament.
The unbeaten run (5-0-1) concluded with a 4-0 win over South Island in Sunday night’s gold medal game. It was the juggernaut program’s fifth title in 11 years and the ninth time Richmond has reached the championship game — all with Sander behind the bench.
The Ravens headed north as the tournament favourites after winning the Pacific Coast regular season and playoff titles but it is never easy going wire-to-wire in any sport — never mind seeing the same opponents so many times.
The title game was the Ravens’ seventh meeting of the season versus a South Island team they defeated 7-2 to open the championships.
This time it was a tighter affair with Richmond’s special teams play stepping up in a big way.
Sophia Buckberger opened the scoring with a shorthanded effort after Ashley Specht stole the puck and put her in alone.
Specht then jumped on a turnover and converted a breakaway for another shorthanded tally just 51 seconds later.
Second period power play goals from Emily Dragicevic and Buckberger followed.
That was more than enough for goaltender Brynn Waisman who recorded her second straight shutout and finished the tournament with a 1.00 goals against average. She also had terrific defensive play in front of her — a strength of the Ravens’ game all season.
Richmond thrived playing a condensed schedule of six full 60-minute games over the four days which is nothing like the regular season.
“The biggest thing was our energy level was so high, probably the best I have seen from all my teams through the years,” said Sander. “We rolled three lines and the girls were fresh from start to finish. We just wore teams down. All the extra work on conditioning and the dryland training really paid off.”
The road to gold did have some adversity too.
Richmond took a 3-0 record into Saturday’s much-anticipated tilt with North Shore that was sitting at 2-1. It was the 11th meeting of the season between the Pacific Coast rivals.
The Avalanche took a 2-0 lead into the final period and were 20 minutes away from locking up a spot in the final.
The Ravens dug deep and produced three unanswered goals from Julia Farkasch, Sydney Payment and Olivia Northrup.
North Shore managed to equalize with 10 seconds remaining but the tie was enough to put Richmond into the final. An earlier loss to South Island denied the Avalanche the opportunity to play for gold.
Richmond’s other wins came against Kamloops (7-1), North East (4-0) and Vancouver (3-0).
The team also features: Aishreet Sander, Erika Palmieri, Grace Wallace, Annalise Wong, Cailey Wong, Jenna Proulx, Meaghan Dillon, Amanda Phillips and Emma Tait.
Sander was joined behind the bench by Natasha Steblin, Rachel Coulson and Tamara Wong.