By NICHOLAS MERCER
It’s hard to deny that the Conception Bay North region has a ton of talent among its young athletes.
Take ball hockey for example.
Heading into Wednesday’s 2012 NL Summer Games boys’ ball hockey action, both the host team, featuring athletes from Carbonear and Harbour Grace, and Team Avalon, based out of Upper Island Cove and showcasing players from Bay Roberts to Job’s Cove, were vying for medals.
Team Avalon did battle with the representatives from Eastern for the gold medal, while the host met Labrador for the right to wear bronze, both at the S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace.
The drama of the gold medal game hung in the air.
In the stands, members of the Avalon baseball cheered on their ball hockey counterparts.
Dual chants of “Let’s go Eastern!” and “Avalon!” resonated through the stadium.
The two teams were deadlocked at the end of the first half at 0-0.
“We had a little trouble at the start,” said Avalon goaltender Riley Akerman. “We were all over them, but we couldn’t pop on in.”
Coach Brian Greeley said he and head coach Neil Shute told their players to keep pushing.
“We said that once we get the first one it was all going to fall into place,” he said.
It was not until minutes into the second half that Avalon broke the deadlock.
Victoria’s Rodney Slade put Avalon up 1-0, after he took a pass from Noah Donovan and hit the back of the net.
“I usually don’t score like that, I usually fans on it,” he said minutes after receiving his gold medal. “This time I put in the back of the net. It’s hard to explain, just with the excitement and jumping up and down.”
Avalon went up 2-0 after Andrew Roberts took a pass from Ryan Dawson and buried it.
The next 10 minutes proved to be a pressure cooker for Avalon as Eastern poured on the pressure.
One two separate occasions, Eastern thought it was gotten on the scoreboard.
A ball that was kicked through Akerman’s legs was called back. A couple of minutes after the non-goal, Eastern thought it had another one when a ball snuck through Akerman again but Mackenzie Dobbin was there to knock the ball out of harm’s way.
“I was about ready to perish,” he said.
Greeley could not say enough about the goaltending he got from Akerman.
“He was a late addition to the team, but we wouldn’t have did it without him,” he said. “I think he let in three goals the entire tournament. He was a monster for us.”
For Greeley, the gold medal victory makes up for a lost opportunity in 2004 when he was an athlete in the Games.
Greeley had been on the ball hockey team that year made the decision to play baseball instead. The ball hockey team that year captured the gold medal.
“It wasn’t a regret at the time, but looking back on it, I always wanted to get back,” he said. “I knew I wouldn’t get back as a player, but I got the gold now and I can’t wait to do it again.”
It was also a noteworthy victory for Shute. 20 years earlier, Shute was a member of the host boys’ ball hockey team that won gold at ’92 NL Summer Games. It was also the last time the Games were held in Carbonear and Harbour Grace.
The host ball hockey team suffered a heart breaking loss minutes prior to the start of the championship final.
Trialing Labrador 3-2 with mere seconds remaining, when Ryan Slade, of Perry’s Cove, put all ball on net from just outside Labrador’s blue-line.
The ball went in and the stadium erupted.
Slade had forced overtime.
Early in the OT period, Brandon Ivany slide a rebound past a diving Michael Handcock to win it for Labrador.
Matthew Legge and Slade had the other goals for the host team, as it and Labrador traded leads prior to Slade’s last second marker.
Ben Roberts, Jeffrey White and Andrew Tee scored for Labrador.
“I’m proud of our guys,” said host team head coach Matthew Thomey after the loss. “They worked hard, they didn’t give up and they showed a lot of character.”