Even Cinderella would marvel at the gold medal win from Team Alberta.
A true underdog if there ever was one, the host province rode a wave of confidence to a 2-1 victory over Québec to capture gold in female hockey and close out the 2019 Canada Winter Games.
“It’s a huge honour and the excitement is surreal for us,” said Team Alberta goalie Bella McKee.
“We were the underdogs coming into this tournament and we finished on top. We all bought into the system and bought into who we were playing for on our dog tags. We were one big team and that led us to gold.”
Undefeated in the tournament and coming off a shutout in the semifinal against Ontario, Québec threw everything they had at Alberta on Saturday afternoon at Servus Arena.
Crazy win from @TeamABHockey as they win gold 2-1 over Quebec at the @2019CanadaGames crowd was with them all game and they just hung and stayed calm in the third. #cwg2019 #CGHockey @GoTeamAB pic.twitter.com/G2U8BqF2SA
— Byron Hackett (@RDAbyronhackett) March 2, 2019
With the capacity crowd oohing and ahhing every time Alberta entered the opponents’ zone, it was the pesky host squad that found just enough to win. Considering they were 1-2 in pool play, some might have just been happy for a chance to play for gold.
Yet, riding the high of a 3-0 shutout in the quarterfinal and 2-1 overtime victory against undefeated B.C., again Alberta scoffed at the odds and pulled out an upset over Québec.
“It’s very storybook. For our young players to have this experience, they just played in front of a full house, almost all cheering for them,” said Team Alberta head coach Carla MacLeod, who also complimented the organizers for bringing the Games to Alberta and the volunteers for helping things run smoothly.
“Not many athletes get that experience. Nevermind coming out on top and winning. For me, I’m just so proud to part of this memory that probably lasts a lifetime.”
McKee made the surprise start in goal for the host and was brilliant in the victory. She shutout Manitoba in the quarterfinals, but didn’t play in the semis. Caroline Gosling turned in a stellar performance there, but it was back to McKee for the final.
She stopped 31 shots in the win, 15 of which came in the final frame with frantic pressure from Québec.
“We had two goalies that both played lights out. I think both would say, that’s just my job,” MacLeod remarked.
“That’s how they’re wired. They’re wired to be competitive and they’re wired to play in big games. For us to play two goalies in this tournament and have no questions about what we were going to get is a luxury as a coach.”
Alberta opened the scoring at 9:01 of the first, on the power play when a rebound leaked out into the slot and Kassy Betinol was Jonny-on-the-spot. That goal seemed to put Québec on their heels.
“It gave us confidence. They hadn’t lost a game yet. So there’s a little trepidation coming in, knowing statistically what they’ve done,” added the Alberta head coach.
“I think on the other side of that, it puts them on their heels. They haven’t faced a lot of adversity. They’ve won everything. I think that was a key moment for us.”
In the second, a great drive wide from Danielle Serdachny and dish to Jaden Brogden led to a 2-0 advantage for Alberta.
Only a few minutes later, Québec raised the stakes with a power play tally of their own by Brianna Ware.
They then had relentless pressure in the third, but McKee was simply equal to the task.
MacLeod said although there preached calmness all week long, they needed to take a collective breather during the last TV timeout in the third.
“To be able to weather the storm, I think that’s part of playing a good hockey game. When you play a good opponent, they are going to have time in your zone. I was explaining to the kids that’s okay. As long as we’re doing our jobs,” MacLeod said.
“I think calmness always breeds success. We were fortunate to have the right group of kids that understood how to work hard and it showed.”
"I just can’t stop smiling. We’re going to the gold medal game,” from the OT hero for @TeamABHockey as they upset Team B.C.
& from coach Carla MacLeod “I don’t think I’ve yelled that loud since 2010."
— Byron Hackett (@RDAbyronhackett) March 2, 2019
Brogden, whose goal turned out to be the game-winner, added that the excitement built all day towards the final and had really been growing for the group since they were selected last May.
“It was just incredible. We knew it was going to be packed and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to have it here at home. The energy, you could feel it throughout the day. As we got close to the rink, it just kept building. Once we hit the ice, we knew we wanted to win,” The Edmonton native said.
“We have all been through the same journey. Since May we’ve been building this team. The traits and habits we’ve learned, they pushed us to win this game. We’ve been taught from the get-go to go to the net and win the small battles and play for each other. In this game it was all left out, we were all in together.”
In the bronze medal game, B.C. knocked off Ontario 5-4.