The 17th annual Yelnats Cup hockey weekend capped off with a climactic overtime finisher for Cochrane’s Tier 3 midget team.
“It was pretty sweet,” said coach Stephen MacDonald of the Cochrane Rockies’ win over the Westlock Warriors on Sunday afternoon. “It was a pretty proud moment to see them come together … It was just the perfect weekend.”
The yearly Yelnats tournament brings together 24 teams from around Alberta – and this year, as far away as Ontario – to the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre to celebrate the last years of hockey in the minor leagues for youth.
MacDonald said the midget level, made up of players from ages 15 to 17, is an intriguing group of young guys to coach because of the delicate time in their lives.
“It kind of shifts a little bit,” he said. “We’re not here to make you a better hockey player, we’re here to make you a better man.”
It was that get-it-from-your-gut attitude that pushed the Tier 3 team through the round robin, over the Lomond Lakers 6-3 in the semi-finals and into first three periods of the gold medal matchup – where the Rockies and the Warriors battled back and forth on the scoreboard for most of the game.
“It probably took about five years off my lifespan,” MacDonald joked. “We didn’t know if anyone was going to win or if we were going into overtime.”
At the end of 60 minutes, the two teams were tied up at 6-6 and MacDonald gathered his team for one last message.
“I just let them know that this is what we worked for all year … as coaches, we’ve done all that we can do. Now it’s up to you – it’s yours, just go and take it if you want it,” he said. “If you want something bad enough and you’re willing to try your hardest, anything is possible.”
The players took the pep talk to heart, and just 40 seconds into overtime popped one past the Westlock goalie to clinch the cup.
“It was great,” MacDonald recalled. “Just seeing the expression on their faces when we finally scored the overtime goal … the tears, the smiles. It makes doing this all worthwhile.”
In addition to the hockey-packed hosting duties, the fundraising tournament also brings in a ton of money for community groups – since its inception, Yelnats has donated $85,000 to places like the Lindsay Kimmett Foundation, Rock the Waves, Kidsport, Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre and more.