TWELVE-YEAR-OLD Jordy Bellerive knows the sound of a 3,000plus crowd cheering from the stands. And it's nothing compared to 10,000.
Jordy and his teammates on the North Shore Winter Club's peewee AAA Winterhawks recently experienced something not many minor hockey players get to do.
At the 53rd Quebec International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament (considered the peewee hockey world championships) in February, the Winterhawks faced the L.A. Selects in a nail-biter championship final in front of an estimated crowd of more than 10,000 people at the Pepsi Coliseum, former home of the Quebec Nordiques.
Up to the final game of the 11-day tourney, the stands seated about 3,000 fans per game - way more than the usual 50-100 or so parents and fans at their regular season games.
"It was really intense," says Jordy of playing in front of the crowd. As captain of the team, Jordy was tasked with a leadership role and handled it like a pro.
"I just told them that this is what we've been working for all year and we have to do everything we can to make it as far as we can."
Down 2-0 going into the last period, the Winterhawks tied it up 2-2 at the start of the third before giving up a heartbreaking goal with four minutes left.
"We played as hard as we could, we just didn't come out with the win," says Jordy.
His praise is echoed by coach Billy Coupland.
"They were, quite frankly, just relentless," says Coupland of the Winterhawks' tournament performance. "If they were down, if they were even, if they were ahead, they just stuck with it and did what they were capable of doing, and for the most part it allowed them to be quite successful."
In this do-or-die tournament in which one loss marks the end of the journey, the Winterhawks won every game except the final, including a semifinal match against the defending champs, the New York Rangers. This tournament, which has seen the best of the NHL come through as kids, including Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, is considered legendary.
The North Shore team met and beat the reigning Ontario regular season peewee champions from Peterborough in the round of 32. Other challengers included the St. Louis Blues, a team at the top of the U.S. Midwest elite league, and the New Jersey Devils, an all-star team of the best players from eight different club teams in the New Jersey area. It's not surprising the Winterhawks occasionally found themselves trailing, but it didn't seem to faze them.
"It didn't change our group, it didn't change our focus, and they believed in themselves and they believed in each other, and they just kept on going and they were rewarded in every single game until that last game," reports Coupland. "What they were able to accomplish is very, very significant and they should be very proud of that."
Jordy says the team strategy was not complicated: "We just played the same way every game. We played hard, we played strong and we played simple."
Coupland notes it was a team effort that brought them to the finals, but he singles out Jordy, who attended the tournament last year and was the assistant captain then.
"For my money he was the top player in the tournament. And when you have an individual such as that who is your leader, who is such an exceptional player, and who is so well respected by his teammates, it was a huge advantage for us because he's somebody that the group could look to, and they would watch how he would respond to situations or how he would act or how he would perform and he just provided a lot of leadership for us," says the coach.
For his part, Jordy says he was ready to step up to the role.
"It's my job to lead the team, show them what to do, especially being the second year (at) the tournament," he explains, adding he didn't have any doubts they would do as well as they did.
"Our team was really good this year and I knew we would have a good run," he says, noting the team's strengths: "We move the puck really well. We're a fast team. We're not very big, but we respect each other. We play as a team."
His coach has nothing but positive things to say about the captain.
"I've never coached a kid who at this particular stage in their development is more dominant than Jordy. And it's a marathon. There's a lot of hockey left to be played but he's a real special player. He does a lot of things really well."
This is the last year Jordy can participate in the Quebec tournament as he moves out of the peewee age group and hopes to move on to bantam next year.
"I want to play as long as I can," he says of his plans. And how will he remember his time in Quebec?
"It was a great tournament. The best experience of my life so far in sports. In anything. It was the best experience so far of my life," he says.