Dozens of Jasper hockey players got their collective jocks in a knot earlier this month when it was suggested that the Midget Bearcats be brought into the commercial hockey league for playoffs.
Some background: The Liquor Lodge Beavers, barely able to ice a team of more than eight skaters all season, cut their losses and pulled the pin on the playoffs. That left a hole in the schedule that league administrators thought could be filled by the ‘Cats. Cue the controversy. Turns out that the threat of not being able to play in Super Sunday—the JHL’s equivalent of the Stanley Cup finals, but with beer guts—was enough to cause significant stress to those who’ve dreamed all year of skating in front of a crowd. Complaints were filed. Outraged text messages were sent. Was the commissioner really going to let a team of high schoolers steal the glory the JHL brethren paid and played all season for? Legitimately, there was also the concern of shit going sideways. Think about it: grown men with anger issues getting circles skated around them by face-cage-wearing 16-year-olds. It seemed like a recipe for disaster. Alas, the whole thing was called off, but not before the Midgets played the Brew Pub in a barn burner of an exhibition match, narrowly losing 5-4. Not to dwell on an actual hockey team in the JHL report, but it wasn’t the only heartbreaker the ‘Cats were handed lately. Heading into provincial semi-finals against Valleyview on March 13, the Midgets out shot, out battled and out hit their opponents as nine Jasper skaters (versus 15) came from behind to send the game into overtime. When that frame didn’t solve anything, they went for another, where their incredible run finally ended. Hold your heads high, Bearcats, you gave your fans quite a ride.
The JHL’s Bonestars and Barley Kings players will want to keep their heads up too, but for different reasons. Their first playoff matchup got a bit spicy at times, and one suspects that if these two face off in the finals, as is expected, the old-time rivalries between players who’ve known each other since minor hockey should heat up. My money is still on the Bonestars, but you never know. Penalty trouble, a hot goalie or an untimely CN shift can always turn things around. The more interesting question might be who will be battling it out in the B side. I’m rooting for Royals vs Bongs, because I think it will be the most evenly matched and therefore the most fun to watch. The run-and-gun Royals will have their work cut out for them against the Bongs’ D, while the Bongs will have to connect their cross-crease passes to solve goalie Cam Vos. Both teams recruited hard during the off-season, and it’s tough to say which captain is more passionate or vocal, the Royals’ Rob Olson or the Bongs’ Jeff Smith. Maybe I should ask referee Brad Derbowka.
The C Final should not be scoffed at, even though the game starts before most Outlaws like to get out of bed (looking at you, Craig Dodd). There is a surprising amount of glory in placing second last, which is only compounded by the over-sized trophy that comes with C-side Victory (thanks, Dave the Welder). Undoubtedly, whichever team that lines up on Super Sunday will be feel the pressure to perform, but it’s probably best that it won’t be the Midget Bearcats. Inevitably, sticks will fly, tempers will boil and emotions will run the gamut. The idea of the Bearcats duking it out in the JHL playoffs was fun in theory, but there was too much potential for disaster. Baptism by fire is one thing; being sent to the firing squad is quite another.