After finishing with the bronze medal at provincials last year, the Zone 2 U16AA Blaze ringette team moved up two spots on the podium this season. The Blaze, which includes seven players from Airdrie, claimed the gold at the 2020 AA Ringette Provincial Championships, Feb. 27 to March 1 in Spruce Grove, Alta., after skating to a 5-4 win over the St. Albert Mission.
“We were going for the comeback from last year, and we were going against the same team and we were pumped to play against our enemy,” said Airdrie player Rachel Bushfield. “No one wanted to lose and the adrenaline was just extremely high.”
The Blaze overcame teams from Calgary, Sherwood Park and Spruce Grove in the round-robin, and booked its berth to the championship by defeating the Calgary Tenacity in a hard-fought semi-final. According to Bushfield, the teams were neck-and-neck throughout the battle, until the Blaze scored the winning tally in overtime.
“We were the underdogs in that game and Alyssa Bailey came out with the game-winning goal on a breakaway,” she said.“Going into OT, coach had full faith in us and we just went out and did our jobs.”
The gold-medal game provided similar excitement – St. Albert and Zone 2 were tied 4-4 late in the game before Bushfield sniped the winner in the final few minutes. The championship-winning shot was her fourth goal of the match.
“I was super determined,” said the 14-year-old Bert Chuch High School student. “My grandpa had just passed away the month before, and he loved watching my ringette games, so I wanted to do it for him.”
While Zone 2 has won provincial banners at the U14 age group, this marks the first time the U16 squad has earned Alberta’s top honour.
Zone 2 AA ringette, which formed in 2015, provides AA-calibre teams for local players in U14, U16 and U19. The teams are comprised of elite-level players from Cochrane, Airdrie, Strathmore and the surrounding communities, who try out for the select squads after excelling within their local associations.
Despite being relatively young, Zone 2 has punched above its weight in recent years. Last year, the association’s U14 team dominated the AA provincials before winning the Western Canadian Ringette Championships. Many of the players from that squad moved up to the Blaze this year, which bolstered the team’s competitiveness.
“I believe there were nine of us who transferred over, including our goalie,” Bushfield said.
As a result of winning provincials, the Blaze would have been Alberta’s top seed for the U16 age group at the Canadian Ringette Championships in Ottawa, April 4 to 11. However, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Ringette Canada suspended all sanctioned activities March 12, resulting in the cancellation of the tournament.
While the Blaze did not get to end its season as hoped, Bushfield said the players were proud of their accomplishments.
“This year, there’s been an amazing gel between us all,” she said. “All of our strengths and weaknesses came together and made a really strong team as we worked together, on and off the ice.”