Prior to heading to The Spud AAA Minor Hockey Tournament Jan. 30-Feb. 2, the Bay Arena minor bantam A team had hopes of competing.
However, the more than a dozen players skated that expectation out of the rink.
“They did more than compete,” said coach Nelson Bennett.
Based out of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, the tournament features some of the premier bantam players in Atlantic Canada. For an equivalent, one would look to the Monctonian AAA midget tournament held in Moncton, New Brunswick every year.
In the round robin, the Rovers posted a record of two wins and one loss. In its first game, Bay Arena dropped a narrow 5-4 decision to the Sénateurs Péninsule Acadienne. Colin Parsons, Cameron Simms (2) and Mark Barrett were the goal scoeres.
Next was a 4-1 victory over the Kings County Kings, of Montague, PEI. In this game, Simms, Barrett, Ryan Petten and Noah Mercer scored for the Rovers.
The Rovers followed that up with a 5-1 victory over the host Charlottetown Abbies. Barrett, Mercer, Petten, Simms and Brandon Crane had the goals.
In the quaterfinals, the Rovers met the Mid Isle Matrix of Kensington, PEI. Bay Arena defeated the Matrix 4-1.Cameron Simms (2), Zachary Bennett and Mark Barrett were the goal scorers.
After the quarters, Bay Arena would lose a heartbreaking 1-0 decision to eventual champions Fredericton Canadiens in the semifinals.
“It was a fabulous game,” said Bennett.
The first period belonged to the team from Fredericton.
“They took it to us in the first, no doubt about that,” said Bennett.
However, the final two periods belonged to the Rovers.
The game was a physical game. Both teams delivered bone-jarring hits, flashed innate hockey ability and produced a hockey game that must have been a joy for observers to witness.
Although the second frame saw the Rovers maintain a slight edge in chances, Bennett felt his team really turned it up in the third.
“We dominated the third period,” he said.
In the final two minutes of the third, the team had numerous chances to notching the tieing goal, but it was not meant to be.
First, sniper Mark Barrett was sent on a breakaway after a breakout pass from Ryan Petten. It took a miraculous save from the goaltender to preserve the lead.
“I said to him, ‘If I had the choice between you or Sidney Crosby in that situation, I’d choose you every time.’ He’s done it so many times,” said Bennett.
From there, the Rovers pressed even harder. The team threw everything at Fredericton, but the puck would not cross the line. From the puck hitting the crossbar to pucks sliding across the goal line, the Rovers did everything they could to score.
“It was fabulous hockey though. We were right there,” said Bennett.
Fredericton would go on to win the tournament.
For any team to make a run to the semifinals in a tournament, there are bound to be a host of notable performances.
The Rovers were no different.
Bennett said both of the team’s goaltenders had notable performances.
Both Riley and Owen Petten, not related, turned in great outings for the Rovers.
“Our goaltenders were lights out. They played amazing,” said Bennett.
The Rovers top unit was, as the coach described it, “the best top unit in the tournament.”
That line featured Zachary Bennett, Colin Parsons, Cameron Simms, Petten and Barett/
He made mention of forward Simms. Simms finished the tournament with sixtallies.
“He proved himself to be one of the best players in Atlantic Canada,” said Bennett.
What makes the Rovers’ success at the Spud even more compelling is the amount of games the team has played as a unit.
“Of course, the first question you’re asked up there is how many games have you played,” said Bennett.
The answer to that question for the Rovers, up until the start of the tournament, was none. The players get hockey in house league and provincial AAA programs, but so far, they’ve had very little as a team.
That was a stark contrast from the other teams in the tournament.
“Even the novices were between 50 and 60 games,” said Bennett. “We just play each other, that’s all we do.”
The Spud is the largest AAA tournament in Atlantic Canada, and features teams from novice to bantam.
The Rovers were not supposed to make it as far as the semifinals. The team is classified as an A level club, and the Spud is reserved for AAA teams.
“They would not accept us until HNL called and told them we were good enough,” said Bennett.
After some convincing, tournament officials swayed on their initial response and let the Rovers into the tournament.
When they go there, Bennett had nothing but praise for the tournament.
“It was amazingly run. They were always ahead of schedule. It was nerve wracking with how early you had to be there,” the coach noted.
“It was a wonderful experience.”
Members of the team are: Cameron Simms, Ryan Petten, Mark Barrett, Noah Mercer, Zachary Bennett, Brandon Crane, Owen Petten, Riley Petten, Cameron Chipman, Kyle Tetford, Justin Jones, Lucas Reid, Mason Oates, Darcy O'Reilly, Colin Parsons, Jacob Russell and Robbie Craig. Coaches are: Nelson Bennett, Wade Oates and Lindsey Petten.