Rory Bird knew before he stepped out on the Kin 1 ice Sunday afternoon to face the Kelowna Heat for the provincial ringette 18-plus A-division championship he would be playing his last game of the season.
The stakes were never higher for Bird and the Prince George Rush – a berth in the Western Canadian championship later this month in St. Albert, Alta.
No matter what the outcome of Sunday’s game, Bird knew he wouldn’t be there to help his teammates try and win a Western Canadian title. By that time he’ll be in Australia with his family from Terrace scattering the ashes of his father Terry, who died of cancer in March 2018.
Bird has always been a goalscorer ever since he started playing ringette as a kid in Terrace. Filling the nets of opponents is what he does best and given a chance to lock up their first-ever A provincial championship, the 29-year-old letter carrier delivered the goods, scoring five goals in a 6-2 win over the Heat.
“It’s a good feeling winning an A title, we came out a lot stronger than the first game (a 4-3 overtime loss to Kelowna Friday night) and I thought we actually controlled the whole game,” said Bird. “It’s quite amazing we could achieve all this success when we hardly practice together as one whole team.”
Bird’s five-goal game ranks among the best games he’s ever had.
“It just means more because we won the championship, it’s the first gold for me and I’ve had a bit of rough year and a bit,” said Bird. It feels good to win for Dad, so that was motivation. It’s good to help the team got to Westerns and I’ll be with them, not physically, but I’ll be thinking about them.”
Bird kickstarted the Rush offence early, scoring on a delayed penalty 1:36 into the game. Samantha Weigel tied it for Kelowna at the eight-minute mark but three minutes later Bird took a pass from Darian Campbell in the slot and fired a high shot into the net behind Rebecca Forrester to restore the lead.
The Rush penalty-killers had to work overtime late in the first period with Kristen Tooms and Brooklyn Howard serving penalties that left Prince George two players short for 1:40 but goalie Megan Spooner was sharp when she got tested and kept the Rush ahead 2-1 heading into the break.
The speedy five-foot-six Bird continued to make life miserable for Kelowna. He fired off a backhander made it 3-1 4:39 into the second period and he toe-dragged the ring across the crease for his fourth of the game at 9:40. Taylor Cristofoil put in a rebound to make it a 4-2 game, but about a minute later Sydney Irving used her backhand shot to finish off a crisp three-way passing play with teammates Tara Holmberg and Saynia Pickering.
Bird iced it with a wraparound late in the game.
Prince George breezed through the tournament with a 4-1 record. Kelowna drew the bye into the final while the Rush had to defeat Surrey 9-2 in the semifinal to get to the championship game.
Rush head coach Art Lamothe said having to play that extra game Sunday morning actually helped his team tune up for the final. They had plenty of energy left for the afternoon game, given a rare opportunity to play for a title on home ice.
“We don’t play in a league, so these tournaments are our warm-up games, so we start out slow, but our stabbing, our shooting, our timing was all better as we went along,” said Lamothe.
“I think it helped playing at home, these girls haven’t played a game in town here since they were like 14 or 16 years old, like 10 years, so it was nice to play in front of family and stuff. It’s a little more nerve-wracking but the team responded well.
“We’ve been stressing defence the last three games - no odd-man rushes, just make sure we get the ring out of our zone first and they bought into it and that’s why they won. Rory was stellar.”
Spooner, a former Western Canadian championship MVP, is looking forward to the trip to St. Albert for the tournament, March 27-31. Prince George teams will have guaranteed berths next year after the Prince George Ringette Association won the bid to host the tournament in March 2020.
“I haven’t been to Westerns in at least 10 years, we came second the last two or three provincials and it feels nice to finally get one,” said the 25-year-old Spooner. “Everybody just came with more determination in the final, they knew what was on the line because Kelowna was competing for Westerns too. I was still stressing out when there was 30 seconds left and we were up 6-2.
“Just being from the north makes this team special, every tournament we go to we spend so much time and money and effort to get there and it just means so much more for the team to do something like this because it doesn’t happen that often.”
In other local results, the Prince George Beaut Showz went undefeated at 5-0 in the under-16 B division, wrapping up the provincial title with a 4-2 win over the Houston Royals.
Avery Lea scored two goals, while Taryn Atkinson and Paige Shaw also found the net for Prince George. Rebecca Sketchley scored both Houston goals.
“It was a really intense aggressive game but we came out of top, we had some really nice breakaways and our offence was top-notch and so was our defence we were on our game,” said Paige Shaw.
The Royals got great goaltending from Carson Niven and had their chances in the other end but Ryan Shaw was sharp backstopping the win, the eighth in nine games this season against Houston. Two of the wins for Prince George came in overtime.
“That was really intense, I’d never played in overtime before and you have to work that much harder, it was so intense and so fun,” said Atkinson, who notched the OT winner against Fraser Valley. Emma Watson was the overtime hero for the Beaut Showz in their win over Kelowna.
“This was exciting, especially in front of home crowd, it was very intense because everyone was watching and so we had to make ourselves look good but we worked very hard for it,” said Prince George captain Meghan Watson.
In the U-14 B final, Terrace defeated the Prince George Great White Sharks 5-2. The Sharks finished the round robin 3-1, then beat Vernon 4-2 in the semifinal. The Prince George Heat finished fifth in the nine-team tournament.
“This is a fantastic group of kids, they support each other and give everything they have on the ice and they understand what the concept of team is and their sportsmanship is off the charts.” said Sharks head coach Jen Wheeler. “Today it was a battle to the end with Terrace. We’re so proud of these kids, they’ve worked so hard all season and have collectively been a wonderful group of people and on the ice they showed it.”
Other division final scores were: U-19A – Vancouver 8 Kelowna 5; U-19 B – Winfield 4 Houston 2; U-16 A – Kelowna 6 Vancouver 3; U-14 A – Greater Vancouver 7 Delta 5.