Like ring-slinging zombies, the Lower Mainland Thunder came back from the dead on their way to claiming the National Ringette League championship in a historic 7-2 win over the Montreal Mission Saturday at Burnaby's Bill Copeland Arena.
Two North Shore ringers, defenders Melanie Thomas of West Vancouver and Dani Brassington of North Vancouver, both suited up for the Thunder as they followed an improbable path to become the first British Columbia team in any division to win a national ringette championship.
The Thunder took a roller coaster route to Saturday's championship final. On Day 3, Thursday, the Thunder lost 7-6 to Montreal on a last-minute goal to fall to 2-3 in the tournament. With three losses the players believed they were out of the running.
"Everyone thought we were done," Brassington told the North Shore News after the tournament. "We were all just devastated."
Some complicated math from coach Chris Wakefield proved to the players that they still had an outside shot of advancing to the finals if they won all of the rest of their games and got a lot of help from other teams. The comeback started Thursday night with a 10-4 win over the Manitoba Jets to set up one crazy Friday the 13th for the Thunder.
Facing a day of elimination the Thunder rolled, knocking off the Cambridge Turbos in their opening match Friday before beating the same team again in a 10-minute, tie-breaking mini game. The mini game went into sudden death overtime tied 0-0, further fraying the Thunder's tight nerves.
"It was so nerve-wracking because we knew we should win and we were playing awesome but anything can happen - a ring could have gone off a skate into the net, a fluke goal and it could have been over," said Brassington. "When we scored that was probably the emotional high of that tournament. We were so excited."
To finish off freaky Friday the Thunder topped the Ottawa Ice 6-1 to book their place in the final. Montreal came into Saturday's championship game ranked No. 1 in the country with a perfect 6-0 record but they were no match for the white-hot Thunder who were led by four goals and an assist from Finnish native Salla Kyhala, the tournament MVP.
"We played a phenomenal game," said Brassington. "We just controlled the ring in their end the whole time so they didn't get too many chances, and those they did our goalie saved."
Brassington still can't believe that she's a national champion.
"I get goose bumps when you say that. It's pretty surreal. When we set the goal at the beginning of the year it just seemed so unobtainable, it'd never been done. But we had the team to do it and it's crazy but it actually happened."
West Van native Thomas, one of the team's co-captains, was named to the tournament's first all-star team after the win.
"She totally led us this week," said Brassington of her North Shore neighbour. "She just brought so much incredible energy to it. Her favourite saying is 'give it your guts.' And she literally gave her guts every shift. It didn't matter what happened, she was not letting the other team have the ring, she was not letting them score. Whether she had to take them out physically or dive on the ring, she just outworked every single person on the ice and was a great example for us."
The win was all the more sweet because it happened at home with friends and family there to see B.C. ringette history made, said Brassington.
"All our old coaches, all our old teammates, people who we've played with throughout the years were all there watching," she said. "It was almost a victory for them as well - everyone had a part in it even if they weren't playing. Everyone was super excited and it was really cool to share that with everyone in our hometown."
While the end result was amazing, the ride was incredibly bumpy.
"This was my fourth nationals and they've been a lot more fun in the past, I think, but this time we'd been saying this is our chance, this is the best team we've ever had," said Brassington. "We just wanted it so bad, every game was that much more stressful, if we lost it was that much more devastating. It was really an emotional roller coaster, but the highs of scoring and winning were just incredible. We just peaked at the right time. The last four games, our team played the best we've ever played and that was so fun to be a part of."
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