Tait: Harnett’s SSAC Southgate Lions first Edmonton team to win Western Canadian bantam AAA championship
EDMONTON - The picture on head coach Taylor Harnett’s Facebook page has pride written all over it.
The picture shows members of his South Side Athletic Club Southgate Lions bantam AAA hockey team — players, coaches and other team personnel — with big smiles as they pose for a photograph. They had just captured the Western Canadian bantam AAA championship after beating Vancouver’s North Shore Winter Club Winterhawks 5-3 on Sunday at Kindersley, Sask.
“It was the best hockey experience of my life,” said Harnett, who has coached for the last 14 years. “The most rewarding part was seeing the players and coaches celebrate and hold the cup.”
It was also the first time an Edmonton team has won the Western Canadian bantam AAA championship, Harnett’s third visit as a coach at the annual event.
The Lions had just two losses in 2012-13 — one during the regular season and the other in the playoffs.
“The boys always worked hard and played as a team,” Harnett said.
Star forward Tyler Benson, just 15, scored an amazing 70 goals and added 110 assists during the regular season and playoffs in 2012-13. He’s expected to be selected first overall in the upcoming Western Hockey League bantam draft.
“The other players did not get distracted and always kept their eye on the ball. They all supported each other.”
So what’s next for Harnett?
“I’m not sure where I will go from here,” he said. “But I think every coach would tell you that they would like to advance if a good opportunity comes up.”
Saints coach ready
You can’t blame Spruce Grove Saints general manager/head coach Jason McKee for watching Game 7 of the Alberta Junior Hockey League South Division final online Tuesday.
McKee and his team will be in Brooks Friday night to face the Bandits for their fourth league championship series in five years after Brooks won a 2-1 nail-biter over the Okotoks Oilers Tuesday to advance to the championship.
“We will need a complete effort from everyone,” said McKee, whose Saints eliminated the Whitecourt Wolverines in five games in the North Division final last Friday night.
“We will need to make things difficult for them in all three zones of the rink.”
McKee said the break between series has been a bonus.
“It has given us some time to heal up some nicks and bruises as well as using the time to mentally prepare for the finals.”
With Game 2 on Saturday, the series shifts back to Spruce Grove for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday.
Time for friendship
Like other minor hockey teams in the Edmonton area, the North Seera Atom Eagles are having their annual windup. For the Eagles, Thursday night will be a time to celebrate the season and, more importantly, forge friendships.
I have a personal connection with the team: my 10-year-old grandson, Nicholas, played centre for the Eagles in his first year of organized hockey.
We witnessed all the players hone their skills during the season and they even won the city’s gold-medal game.
But, for me, it was the friendships that players and fans made which will be treasured the most.
“I think the friendship comes in minor hockey at that level because everyone chips in to help,” Kevin Lowe, Edmonton Oilers president of hockey operations, said from Toronto Wednesday. “It’s like, ‘I can’t drive the kids to the rink, but I’ll pick them up.’ There are great friendships formed.”
I saw that in spades during the course of the season.
Nicholas’ mother died in early March from cancer. The day after her death, Nicholas had a game at Kenilworth Arena. He said he was going to get a goal for his mom.
He scored twice that day.
Nicholas received countless high-fives after the game in celebration and, I’m sure, in comfort.
After the game, the Eagles had a closed-door meeting and decided to dedicate the game to Nicholas.
This is just one story of how minor sports creates memories and friends for life.
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