By Joseph Hayes
The 58th annual International Silver Stick Finals kicked off Thursday at various locations Thursday in Port Huron.
With it came the expected anticipation and excitement the tournament has always brought to the Blue Water Area.
This year, the tournament will be held over the course of three weekends, with the PeeWee and Bantam AAA teams facing off this weekend.
The PeeWee A and Bantam A teams will follow next weekend (Jan. 16-19) and the PeeWee AA and Bantam AA teams will conclude the event the weekend of January 23-26.
On Thursday, one of the best games was a barn burner between the Long Island Gulls of New York and the Mississauga (Ont.) Reps at Glacier Pointe Ice Complex.
After trailing for a good portion of the game, the Gulls scored three, third-period goals to storm back and win their first game of the tournament.
“Normally you don’t get a break in the ice cut with the younger levels,” Long Island coach Mike Bracco said after the win. “It was nice to go in the locker room and regroup everyone. You could tell we were the more skilled team and we just had to go out and play the game the way we know how.
“We got two quick goals in the third period and you could see the skill level.”
The Reps would try, but wouldn’t be able to respond to the Gulls offensive firepower and would lose 6-4 in an offensive showcase for both teams.
“They are one of the top three or four teams in the USA and we were trying to survive,” Reps coach Beau Moyer said. “We are a team trying to survive and put out a good effort and see if we can win a hockey game in the third period.
“I thought we did a good job the first two periods. But we got away from our game plan and gave them more space to make plays and when you have skill like they have, it’s tough to contain a team like them. It’s my second time coming here. The best thing about the tournament is the competition. Hopefully, the boys can rally as a group.”
Coming to the event from afar was enough to motivate both teams.
“Silver Stick, the name alone is huge,” coach Bracco said. “When we play the tournament, the kids get excited for it. Hopefully, we can keep it going and play (in the finals) on Sunday.
“When you play all of these top teams, almost anyone can win a game. You have to stay focused and make your chances count. Let your skill take over the games.”