Editor's note: the following article first appeared in the Jan. 29, 2013 print edition of The Compass.
Those who follow minor hockey in Bay Roberts are well aware of the incredible success enjoyed by teams at the atom level (ages 8 and 9) in recent years, with the atom A team making a habit of winning the big games in both 2011 and 2012.
Elite atom teams from the St. John's region and beyond have experienced defeat at the hands of a high-flying, talent laden squad from Bay Arena minor.
Most of those players are now continuing that success at the peewee level, with some saying this group of players is among the best in Atlantic Canada.
Such a reputation casts a big shadow over those young players who make up the roster of this year's Bay Arena minor atom A team.
With only one player returning from last year's provincial champions, the 2012-13 version of the atom A team is starting with a clean slate, and has had mixed results so far this season.
But players and coaches are not letting the pressure get in the way of the task at hand - to have fun and play to their fullest potential.
"We approach each game and every practice trying to get the best out of the kids every day," said new head coach Carl Dohey. "I try to avoid comparison, and to not let that bother us. But yes, it is a heavy shadow."
Even in a hockey town like Bay Roberts, it's impossible to produce a championship calibre team each and every year. But with success comes high expectations.
Bay Arena minor enjoyed one of its best seasons in recent memory last year, icing winning teams in nearly every division, and hoisting even more championship banners to an already crowded rafters.
Coach Dohey fully recognized this when he took on the job of atom A head coach last fall, and he is routinely asked about "the pressure."
He brushes it off, saying, "All we can do is try to bring the kids along and get out of them what we feel they have to offer."
He's right. After all, this is minor hockey, and these players weren't even born when Wayne Gretzky played his last NHL game in 1999.
But hockey is a competitive sport, and those who play at the atom A level have surely recognized this. Teams employ "systems," come out for early morning practices and talk hockey constantly with their mates. Games are fast-paced, intense and a showcase for some promising young talent.
This was certainly the case at a tournament in Bay Roberts Jan. 18-20. The tournament attracted atom A teams from throughout the province, and it was the first real test for the Bay Arena team.
Despite some whispers that this might be an "off" year, the team came away with a silver medal following a hard fought 3-2 loss to Corner Brook in a final that could have gone either way. Hundreds of fans flocked to the arena, and they got more than their money's worth.
"We could have won that game," said Dohey.
En route to the final, the team recorded wins over their rivals from Harbour Grace, the CeeBees (7-2), and narrow 2-1 wins over the Celtics, Gander and Clarenville. The only blemish was a 4-2 round-robin loss to the eventual champs from the west coast.
Suddenly, talks of an unremarkable season have disappeared, and the confidence level among the players has improved, knowing they can win the close games.
What's more, Dohey said his charges are improving each and every time they hit the ice.
"I think we are holding our own, even with the limited number of games we've played," the coach stated.
"You can practice all you like but until you are in a game and you are up or down a goal, that's when it really matters."
Uneven playing field
A decision to exclude Bay Arena minor from an all-star league in St. John's a year ago - now known as the Don Johnson Hockey League - remains an open wound among hockey leaders at the area.
Two years ago, the Bay Arena atom A team was the class of the field, winning the championship in spectacular fashion over Conception Bay Regional, and proponents say exposure to this high level of competition is key to a team's development.
Teams in the DJHL have likely played 20-plus competitive games to this point in the season, far more than teams in the rest of the province.
"When trying to get your team going and compete against kids who are at the same level, but with an additional 20 games, you can spot the cobwebs. But our kids are dedicated and committed. They are great kids," said Dohey.
Attempts by Bay Arena minor to rejoin the league have been rebuffed, but people like Dohey hold out hope that continued persistence will pay off. It's one of the reasons he agreed to serve as interim vice-president of Bay Arena minor several weeks ago.
"In order to be a part of that change, you have to be at a certain level," said Dohey, who moved back to Bay Roberts, his hometown, this past summer with this family after many years in St. John's.
Despite being shut out of the St. John's league, the team seeks out games at every opportunity. It will compete at a tournament in Harbour Grace next month, and will travel to Nova Scotia in March to compete at the Joe Lamontagne Memorial March Break Tournament.
It's all in preparation for the provincial championships in April, said Dohey.
"We want people to enjoy our team for what we are, and what we have to offer," he noted.
Members of the 2012-13 Bay Arena minor atom A team include the following:
• Goaltenders - Riley Mercer and Mitchell Edmunds;
• Defence - Tyler Dohey, Corey Parsons, Brady Oates, Eric Ardis, Jared Edmunds, Alex Franey and Noah Coombs;
• Forwards - Owen Sparkes, Dawson Crane, Aaron Boone, Liam Gregory, Matthew Lane, Troy Mercer, Billy Porter and Logan Hussey;
• Team officials - head coach Carl Dohey, assistant coach Craig Mercer, defensive coach Chad Parsons, trainer Wade Oates and manager Colleen Parsons.