Byron Fancy locked down the net and the boys in front of him took care of the offense as Team Alberta cruised to a 5-1 win over Team Manitoba in Thursday evening action at the 2016 Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary.
“I just came into the game and wanted to stay calm, focus myself and worry about doing my best,” Fancy said after his 30-save performance between the pipes. “There were a few opportunities in the first and throughout the game, but you’ve just got to be there for the team as they were for me tonight.
“The boys really came together – we’ve bonded really quick and the boys really trusted each other tonight. It was a strong effort by each individual on the team and it was a good game altogether.”
Carter Souch, a last-minute addition to the lineup after Jakin Smallwood was ruled out due to injury, left his mark on the outcome, registering a goal and an assist to help fuel Alberta.
“Obviously it’s a great start,” Souch said of his team’s 2-0-0 record. “We didn’t have quite the first game that we wanted but today was a real bounce-back game. We played really well.”
Jonny Hooker capitalized on a lost defensive assignment deep in Alberta territory to give Manitoba an early 1-0 lead, beating Fancy only 1:32 into the first period. But it was all Alberta after that.
“We just didn’t play a full 60 minutes,” said Jonathan Lambos, captain for Team Manitoba, following Thursday’s defeat. “They’re a good team. They’ve got lots of skilled players and you’ve got to give credit to them for playing a good game. They just buried on their chances and we have to be a little more opportunistic.
“We definitely had spurts of good team play and we were all over them for a couple shifts, but it just comes down to playing a whole 60 minutes.”
Midway through the opening period, Souch – a fourth round pick of the Edmonton Oil Kings – forced a turnover along the wall before collecting the loose puck and taking it in on Danton Belluk. Turning to the backhand, Souch lifted a beautiful shot over the shoulder of Belluk and into the back of the net to tie the game 1-1.
“They were going ‘D’ to ‘D’ and the puck went up the wall,” Souch said, recounting his marker. “There was a turnover and I just walked in all alone.”
Ethan Browne broke a 1-1 deadlock early in the second period, banging home a rebound at the side of the net as the final few seconds of a power play wound off the clock, giving Alberta a 2-1 edge. Only 49 seconds later, Brayden Tracey grabbed his own rebound and found a hole in Belluk, trickling one through to make it 3-1.
Daniel Baker extended the Alberta lead to 4-1 only 1:28 into the third period, sneaking another past Belluk. Roughly six minutes later, Tracey collected his second goal of the night, using the man advantage to give Alberta a commanding 5-1 lead.
For Team Manitoba, they fall to 0-2-0 and will face a winless Team Saskatchewan Friday afternoon.
“We’ve just got to forget our last game and play with a fresh mind,” said Lambos, a third round pick of the Victoria Royals. “That’s what hockey is. It all comes down to tomorrow and we have a chance of getting to that gold medal game.
“We’ve just got to play a full 60 minutes. Everybody has to play their game. We can’t have any passengers – we need all 20 guys going.”
Meanwhile, Alberta is undefeated after two games and will take on Team BC – the only other undefeated party – in the marquee matchup Friday evening at the Markin MacPhail Centre.
“We’ve got to stay close together and keep battling,” Fancy said looking ahead to Friday. “It’s not just going to come for us. We’ve got to battle for it right to the end.”
The Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup has been sponsored since 2009 by the WHL and has been made possible through financial support provided by the WHL, Hockey Manitoba, BC Hockey, Hockey Alberta, Saskatchewan Hockey Association and Hockey Canada.
This marks the sixth edition of the event. The first Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup was held in Blackfalds, Alta., in 2009 and featured four of the top eight players selected at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. In 2011, the Moose Jaw Warriors and Saskatchewan Hockey Association hosted the event at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw. In 2012, the tournament returned to Alberta, hosted in Calgary at Father David Bauer Arena – home of the WHL – where it remained for two years. In 2015, the tournament was once again hosted in Calgary, but shifted to the Markin MacPhail Centre.
Team Alberta is a four-time champion of the Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup, capturing the title in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Team BC won the event in 2012, while Team Manitoba and Team Saskatchewan are still seeking the crown.