The 2019-20 season was a memorable one for the Beiseker Blazers bantam Tier 3 hockey team – in more ways than one.
After skating to a 10-5-3 regular-season record in the Central Alberta Hockey League (CAHL) Tier 3 Central Division, the Blazers won the division by beating teams from Strathmore and Chestermere in the playoffs.
“They were a tight group that bought into everything we were trying to get them to do,” said head coach Trevor Bell, who said the team had a healthy mix of both first-year and second-year bantam players. “The results came quicker than I thought they would, especially moving up a level from [Tier 4] the year before.”
With the Central Division banner in tow, the Blazers then overcame squads from Canmore and Claresholm March 6 and 8 in the CAHL championship tournament, to come away with the Tier 3 title.
In the gold-medal game against Claresholm, Beiseker’s Nolan Bell scored on an assist from Carson Kalinchuk in the final five minutes to give the Blazers a 5-4 lead.
"What a game on that day, played by the top two teams in the league,” Bell said. “It didn't disappoint.”
He added the Blazers’ victory was extra sweet, given the parity of the league.
“Obviously, the playoffs were the highlights, but it was a very tight division,” he said. “There were a couple of teams that didn’t have very many wins, and they were sitting at the bottom of the division, but if you didn’t play your best against any team, you were going to lose – it was that tight.”
Under normal circumstances, the Blazers would have been the CAHL’s representative at Hockey Alberta’s tier 3 bantam boys’ provincial championship tournament, which was slated to take place in Edmonton March 19 to 22.
Unfortunately for the Blazers, the outbreak of COVID-19 in Canada resulted in the cancellation of the tournament March 12, along with other hockey leagues and tournaments across the country.
Bell said there will always be the question of how the Blazers would have fared in provincials.
“The group felt they had a real chance to get to the finals, and who knows from there?” he said. “We knew we could play with the other teams, and we were pretty confident, so the players were disappointed. Once they won [the CAHL title], their goal was to be ready to go to Edmonton in a week and a half – they were pretty pumped about it.”
Bell added the Blazers would have been the first bantam side from the Beiseker Minor Hockey Association to compete at provincials in nearly two decades.
“There was quite the buzz in Beiseker and area, as people were pretty excited to see how the team would do,” he said.
“One of my coaches on the team, he played for Beiseker when he grew up and his team made provincials – I think they might have even won it. But that’s the last provincial banner we had, and that coach is [52 years old], so that’s quite a few years ago.”
Despite the abrupt and unexpected end to an otherwise stellar season, Bell said the players were proud of their accomplishments. Along with the two banners the Blazers picked up, the squad also won a tournament that Beiseker hosted in January.
“As a group, they were really tight and they wanted to be together,” he said. “The players didn’t like leaving – they’d rather be together on the ice. And they pushed each other. They’re all very competitive, and worked their butts off without complaining.”