True to their team name, the Gold Wings are looking pretty golden after surpassing even their own expectations and winning the Esso Cup, the National AAA Female Midget Hockey tournament, the Esso Cup, in Stoney Creek, Ont.
The members of the 2014 Esso Cup gold-medal winning Gold Wings team are Madison Colbow, Bailee Bourassa, Tessa Wilson, Caitlin Dempsey, Jenica Whitrow, Cassidy Pirlot, Kassidy Sjostrand, Whitney Thorp, Macy Liebreich, Paige Smith, Madison, Solie, Jensen Hammer, Ashten Sinclair, Karlee Jensen, Madison Casavant, Jane Kish and Tamara Irwin.
Friday saw the Gold Wings enter the Esso Cup playoffs in second place. They played the Sudbury Lady Wolves and Kish got the shut out, with a final score of 3-0, and the team advanced to the final round.
Meanwhile, the Edmonton Thunder paired with the Stoney Creek Sabres, the only team to beat the Wings in the round robin games, for their semi-final. The Thunder won and advanced with the Gold Wings to the gold medal game. The Thunder came into the Esso Cup with four podium finishes in the last five years of the tournament and many Hockey Canada officials were surprised the Gold Wings even made it to the Esso Cup. Regina Rebels logos and information were loaded on the organization's website before the provincial finals between the Rebels and Wings were even over.
"My dad told me that we were ranked like 27th going into it and so going in there and winning was so amazing. I didn't think we were going to win at all to be honest. We got in there and I was like 'Wow. We're actually good'," said Jenica Whitrow. Her father, Alan is an assistant coach. Whitrow said the team drew inspiration from their friends, family and each other to make it through the rough patches.
"I still don't really believe that we won. It hasn't really sunk in yet," she said. "It was amazing. It was the best moment of my life."
"I think a lot of people don't realize that, even as underdogs, we worked just as hard to get there. We probably worked harder than everybody else, being the underdogs," said Whitney Thorp. Refuting those who might say the Gold Wings got lucky, Thorp said their victory was their accomplishment.
"I don't think there was any luck involved. We had rough spots, but I think that's what brought us together as a team."
Team captain Caitlin Dempsey was also surprised by their victory.
"I think that nobody expected us to be what we were. Everyone kind of took us lightly, didn't take us seriously, at the beginning but we proved them wrong," said Dempsey. "Personally, I was underestimating us too. I was going in there hoping we didn't lose every game 8-1."
Dempsey said winning the first game of the tournament was encouraging and helped build the team's confidence for the rest of the tournament and that winning was an amazing feeling.
"I was so excited. I felt like I won the Stanley Cup. I know it's not the Stanley Cup, but I felt like it."
Jane Kish, goalie, echoed her team mates, in the sentiment that some of the other teams probably underestimated them before they started winning games.
"Teams didn't know what to expect because we're a team from a town of, what, just 12,000 people," said Kish.
Bailee Bourassa and Jenica Whitrow tied the Gold Wings as points leaders at the Esso Cup, each scoring or assisting on nine goals. Cassidy Pirlot was in third with eight points while Tessa Wilson and Caitlin Dempsey were tied for fifth with four each.
Overall, Whitrow and Bourassa tied for third place for scoring at the championship games and Pirlot came in fifth. Kish was named best goalie at the tournament awards banquet and said the award was a nice surprise, but that some of the credit has to be shared.
"I had a lot of help from my defense and that was really important to help me be more successful," said Kish.
The Gold Wings started the Esso Cup with back-to-back-to-back wins against Sudbury Lady Wolves, 2-1; the Edmonton Thunder, 4-2, and the Fraser Valley Phantom, 3-2.
On Wednesday, the Gold Wings went up against the undefeated host team, the Stoney Creek Sabres. They racked up their only loss at the tournament, 3-2, in a game that was close right until the buzzer. On Thursday, the Gold Wings played their final round robin game against the Moncton Rockets and won, 3-2.
Whitrow said one of her most memorable moments of the game was inspired by fear. During the final game, with a close score, the Thunder almost scored to tie the game.
"I'll always remember when they had a power play and Jane dove across the crease and just barely clipped it with her pads and I was like 'oh my gosh, we're still winning' and I thought, 'Jenica, I don't think you're doing your job'," she said with a chuckle. Upon returning home, Whitrow had a big surprise waiting for her. The Yellow Grass native found all of Weyburn and her home town rooting her on.
"It feels great. The support is coming from people who I didn't think even paid attention to us and Yellow Grass put up banners and everything welcoming me home. It was just a surreal feeling," she said and admitted she got a bit choked up.
Thorp still smiles so big her cheeks turn red when she speaks about the team's victory.
"It's pretty crazy. It was really exciting at the time. Everybody was cheering and yelling," she said. Thorp is originally from Regina and said choosing to play for the Weyburn Gold Wings has been a great decision.
"I've been waiting three years for this and this is the best ending that I could have ever asked for," she said.
Thorp is going to study in Edmonton and play hockey there. Dempsey, Kish and Tessa Wilson have signed to play at the University of Regina next year.
Dempsey was also surprised by the amount of support her home-town of Stoughton showed her.
"Lots of the kids from school have texted me. I had like 50 text messages after the game from kids at school. I haven't talked to some of them in a year and they're texting me to say congratulations. It was nice to see," said Dempsey.
Kish said the moment of victory is a bit of an excited blur in her memory.
"I think I jumped in the air a little bit, I was so excited. I just grabbed, I don't even know who first, my defense came and I just gave her the biggest hug," said Kish, and added that she still feels like she's dreaming.
At city council on Monday, the Gold Wings announced that they would be bidding to host the Esso Cup in 2016 or 2017. (It is too late to bid for the 2015 cup.) He cautioned there's no garauntee the city would be chosen and that they are only in the preliminary stages of the process.
"I think it would be fantastic for our program," said coach Chad Kish.
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