The Exploits Valley High Eagles boys hockey team have a lot to be proud of.
For starters, they haven't lost a single game in any of their regular season games or tournaments this season.
That's been 19 wins, and not a single loss. What makes their undefeated title even more impressive is that the team just returned from a trip to Toronto, where the played a tournament against teams from across the mainland, and came out as the champions.
Many of the Eagles boys have been playing together since childhood, and now that quite a few of the teammates will be graduating high school this year, team manager Roger Budgell wanted to do something special for the team. What they decided was that the team would take a trip to Toronto to play in the Canlan Ice Sports invitational tournament, and take in some hockey related sights in the big city.
The Eagles have been fundraising all year to raise the money necessary to go on their big trip. They succeeded, and took off for Toronto last Tuesday.
The first item on the team's itinerary after landing in Toronto was getting down to business at the tournament. The team was placed in the third tier, where they were matched up against four Ontario teams in the round robin of the tournament, which took place on Thursday and Friday.
Budgell admits the Eagles were really nervous going into the tournament, and nerves coupled with jet lag made for a shaky first game, which they played against Almaguin Highlands from South River.
"We didn't know what to expect, and when they saw the other team come out and the size of the players, the nerves set in," said Budgell. "You could tell they were nervous on the ice."
Despite going into the third period of the first game behind 3-1, the EVH boys realized brawn doesn't always win games. They came into the third period with more confidence and managed to score an impressive six goals in the third period, winning the first game 7-5.
"I think the other team tried to outmuscle us because they're so big, I'm taking 220-230 pound guys, they were big men, but we're used to that, because even for the island we're a small team, so we had to rely on our skill."
Budgell said after winning their first game, the Eagle's nerves had subsided, and they were in it to win it.
"As the games went on they found their legs and gained a lot of confidence. After they won that first game, they took a little break and saw some of the teams on the ice and said ‘hey, we're not out of our league here,'" said Budgell.
And out of their league, they clearly were not.
The Eagles dominated their second and last opponents on Thursday, beating a team from Gravenhurst 7-2.
It was early to bed that evening for the team - they had to be back at the rink for 9:30 a.m. to face off against Earl Haig Secondary School from North York.
The undefeated Eagles pulled off a close 3-1 win against Earl Haig the next day. It was then Budgell said the team realized they might have a shot at the championship game.
"When we went 3-0, I thought ‘we actually have a shot at winning this,' said Budgell.
With only a short break between the games, EVH were on the ice again at noon to play Superior Heights from Sault Ste. Marie, where the Eagles came out on top in another close game of 4-3.
Undefeated in the tournament, the boys qualified for the championship game, where they would face off against Almaguin for the second time.
"We only had a 45-minute break until our championship game. The boys couldn't even get undressed. They stayed in the dressing room and we brought in food," said Budgell.
According to Budgell both teams were exhausted going into the game, and finished the second period 2-2. The teams took a break before the third, and the EVH boys decided to show their opponents they were ready to win.
"When we came out for the third we made sure we got on the ice before they did. While they were still in the dressing room we got the boys on the bench and five players on the ice ready to face off," said Budgell. "When the other team came out of the dressing room and saw the team it made them think ‘they're ready and they can't wait to get at us.'"
The Eagles scored two more goals in the final period, winning the game 4-2, and making the Exploits Valley High Eagles from Grand Falls-Windsor the tournament champions.
"Before we left I said to the boys, ‘if we come back without a win but have a great time, the trip will be worth it.' Leaving here, I thought the hockey was secondary. It was all about the trip and the exposure, and representing your town and school," said Budgell. "But this was the icing on the cake, it was excellent. It wasn't something we were expecting, we didn't put any pressure on the boys to win this, but they had a great time."
Aside from winning the tournament, according to Budgell the boys played extremely disciplined hockey the whole tournament, with only eight penalties called against them in five games. The sportsmanship and discipline displayed on the ice didn't stop there.
"Off the ice, I don't think you could get 18 kids together that acted so well and respectful. They came out of the dressing room with their shirt and tie with their school jacket wearing it so proud," said parent Rob Bennett, who also accompanied the boys on the trip. "When we said we wanted to take them on a trip we didn't hesitate one bit, because we knew how disciplined the boys were."
Hockey, hockey and more hockey
If you think the trip ended with the championship game, you'd be wrong. The team spent all of Saturday taking in all the hockey related sites the city had to offer.
On Saturday morning, the team headed to the Air Canada Centre where they watched both the Montreal Canadians and the Toronto Maple Leafs practice for their game that night.
As the players were coming off the ice from their respective practices, the EVH boys managed to meet, schmooze, and get some autographs from the biggest names in hockey, like Luke Schenn, James Reimer and Peter Budaj.
Bennett even got to chat wit Hockey Night in Canada announcer Bob Cole.
The team got to check out the Hockey Hall of Fame, and then headed back to the Air Canada Centre for Hockey Day in Canada's big game between the Leafs and the Canadiens.
"We got there just in time to see the celebrations with Mats Sundin retiring his jersey," said Budgell.
The boys took in the game between the two rival teams, and although most of Eagles are Leafs fans, Budgell they still had a great time, despite Montreal winning.
The next day, the Eagles flew back home on a seven a.m. flight.
"What was the best part of the trip? When we left on Tuesday, and when we got back Sunday night. And everything in between," said Bennett. "Everything fell right into place and the boys had a wonderful times, and made some memories they'll have for years to come."