BONNYVILLE - The Lakeland Panthers Bantam AA proved they're a force to be reckoned with.
The local hockey team remains undefeated this season after storming their competition at the Henry White Trophy Tournament of Champions. After bringing home the gold last year, the Panthers were determined to defend their title during the annual tournament from Dec. 27 to 31 in Edmonton.
Their first matchup on Dec. 27 against the Calgary Canucks ended 3-2 in the local team's favour.
The Panthers continued their success in their next round robin games where they bested the Parkland Athletic Club White 9-1 on Dec. 28 and the South Side Althletic Club Pro Hockey Life 6-1 on Dec. 29
On Dec. 30, the semi-finals saw the Panthers beat the Maple Leaf Athletic Club Alumni 7-3 and sent them to the gold medal round. When they went up against the Olds Grizzly's on New Year's Eve, the Panthers left it all on the ice.
“(The Grizzly's) came out hard,” recalled heac coach Darcy Skarsen. “They had actually scored the first goal, about a minute into the game, and the boys turned it on and by the end of the first it was 5-1. We started hitting, shooting, and skating better and we started to run away with it. The next few periods we clamped down, scored one more in the second, and the third was scoreless.”
The Panthers 6-1 victory etched their name into the tournament's history books as champions for the second year running. Some players also walked away with individual honours.
Panther William Porter was named the top forward of the competition with eight goals and four assists for 12 points overall.
The centreman believes his performance in their matchup against the Canucks was what really set him apart.
“I think it was my first game in the beginning where I got us a tying goal where we won 3-2,” he said.
Skarsen described Porter’s move as the spark the team needed to come alive.
“Will had a strong tournament. He led the team in goals and is among the league leaders in points. He really had a solid effort every game, and he skates hard.”
Three Panthers made the list of top 10 scorers for the week. Aiden McGilvery came in first with three goals and 10 assists for 13 points, followed by Porter in second, and Ben Skarsen in sixth with two goals and eight assists for 10 points.The Panthers accolades didn’t stop there.
Goaltender Joshua Martin received the Edmonton Invitational Bantam Tournament of Champions scholarship for $1,000.
Each coach nominates a player from their team for consideration for the annual award. Those nominated then collect references and submit their school marks for consideration before sitting down with members of the tournament scholarship committee for an interview. Martin said he was surprised to be chosen.
“I believe I’m smart enough, I have a good athletic mind set, and I just wanted to prove to myself that I’m good enough.”
Skarsen added, “Josh is very well-spoken, well-mannered, and he would have interviewed well. Based on the criteria they set for the application, I had a pretty good feeling he would be chosen.”
Now that they've won the tournament of champions, the Panthers will turn their attention to retaining their undefeated streak and coming out on top at provincials.
“We want to finish our league on top, and go to playoffs and win that,” Porter expressed. “Until then, we’ll just take every game one step at a time.”
Skarsen said, “We just want to make sure we’re not taking our foot off the gas. We want to make sure we’re full speed ahead, and we want to enter every game as if it’s a must win because they are for us.”