The LMRL Thunder made British Columbia ringette history Saturday.
With a 7-2 win over the Montreal Mission in the National Ringette League’s championship game, the Thunder became the first B.C. team to win a gold
medal in a national final.
As the players hugged and jumped into each other’s arms, with goalie Mel Rees in the middle, the flags waved in the stands.
It was a proud moment, one the players worked hard to achieve. The team battled their way through three do-or-die situations Friday, beating Cambridge twice (once in a mini-game shootout) and Ottawa to advance to the final.
"Everyone is so proud to represent their province and the Lower Mainland Ringette League," said Thunder coach Chris Wakefield. "When there were 30 seconds left and it was 7-2, it kind of sunk in. We were looking at each other and looking at the players, seeing how happy their were.
"The goal was to make the championship game. And once you make it, you can own the moment. We wanted to make it on our own, not just as the host team. As I’ve said, the teams that play their best on Friday can ride that (in the championship game)."
There were plenty of heroes, starting with sparkplug Salla Kyhala, who had four goals and an assist when it counted most.
There were captains Jenn Wakefield, Sarah Butterworth and Melanie Thomas, whose leadership was crucial on the road to gold.
And there was about as solid a supporting cast as you can ask for; doing whatever it took for the expansion team to reach the summit.
"The strength of our team was how strong our defence really was," said Wakefield. "Maybe the stats didn’t reflect that all the time, but I think it showed in the last few games. People underestimated our goalie. And they had no idea how good our second line was.
"We’re not a typical expansion team. Almost every player has played before – in B.C., Ontario or Saskatchewan."
"Our defence was awesome … our goalie, too," said Kyhala. "We’ve always known we can score. Our challenge has been to not let them score on us."
Kyhala was a difference maker. A star with Finland’s national team, Kyhala played in Saskatoon for two years and was a welcome addition for the LMRL squad.
"It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid (to play in Canada), she said.
"Every team is different, but this felt like home right away. And it isn’t always that way."
Kyhala stepped up when it counted most.
"Pressure is good," she said. "It always makes me play better."
It was an emotional day for her. Her mother and brother’s family arrived in Vancouver right about the time the day ended. Plans were to spend plenty of time together.
Then there’s Heidi Petrell, her Finnish friend, who returns home Sunday.
"It’s been an amazing time. I love this team," said Kyhala.