There was no mistaking the magnitude of the task at hand. Belle Tire entered the 2016 International Pee Wee Tournament of Quebec as the prohibitive favorites at the AAA level. They are a club team that practices and plays together all year. In their first two tournament games, Belle Tire did nothing to change the predictions, winning both games by a combined score of 14-1. Though the odds were long, the New York Pee Wee Rangers, a select team, were undaunted as they arrived at the Videotron Center to prepare for the 9:15 a.m. puck drop. The Pee Wee Rangers had won their first two games by a combined score of 9-2, with a highly effective combination of scoring punch, solid defense, and excellent goaltending. There was also the factor that the Pee Wee Rangers wore the BlueShirts colors so proudly. Both teams would be ready for this winners’ bracket quarter-final matchup, of that there was no doubt.
It’s a tribute to the love that the people of Quebec City have for hockey and the importance of the tournament that more than 6,000 people were in the stands this Friday morning. There was definitely an electric atmosphere as the game got underway. In the early going, as expected, Belle Tire came out swinging. Pee Wee Rangers goaltender Tommy Heaney, who had played so well and so calmly in the prior games, had to be at his best, and he was, turning aside repeated shots. But around the seven minute mark, the tide started to turn. New York was spending more time in the Detroit end. On one rush, the Belle Tire goalie misplayed the puck and left a gaping net wide open, but the Pee Wee Rangers were unable to cash in. Nevertheless, the New Yorkers pressed the attack and ended the scoreless first period strongly.
Sure enough, that momentum continued into the second period. Less than two minutes in, PJ Neal forced a turnover at the redline, pushed the puck ahead to himself, and charged in on a breakaway. The Detroit goalie was caught off guard as PJ’s wristshot went top-shelf to the goalie’s left. PJ Neal’s unassisted goal gave the underdog Pee Wee Rangers a 1-0 lead over mighty Belle Tire. It was the first time the Detroiters had trailed in the tournament. To their credit, Belle Tire responded - and quickly at that. A New York turnover in the Detroit end resulted in a rush up the left wing. At 3:29 of the second period, the game was tied 1-1. Back and forth action ensued, each team getting its chances. But with 1:34 left in the period, just as a Belle Tire powerplay ended, Detroit took advantage of puck possession in the Pee Wee Rangers end to take a 2-1 lead. That hurt, but another Detroit goal – just 26 seconds before the end of the period – hurt even more. A disappointed group of Pee Wee Rangers players, all of a sudden down 3-1, headed off to their lockerroom as the horn sounded.
Yet co-coaches Jeff Devenney and Noel Rubin, so well-attuned to the pulse of their players, wasted no time lifting spirts and making adjustments. Returning to a fresh sheet of ice with a fresh mindset, the Rangers were prepared to grind their way back in to the game. But aggressive play sometimes lead to penalties, and, sure enough, the Rangers drew one early in the third. Detroit sniper Adam Pietila connected on his second goal of the game to give Belle Tire a 4-1 lead. Regardless the Pee Wee Rangers fought on – taking chances, battling through, as the coaches and the players pulled out all the stops through the remainder of the game. And, oh they came close – a couple of hit posts, a couple of shots just wide, and, of course, some excellent saves by the Detroit goalie thwarted the New York comeback. The game would finish with the scoreboard reading 4-1 Detroit.
After the game, coach Devenney reminded his players that they were “all better players than when they got to Quebec last week.” He told them that they “wore the logo with pride, gave everything they had, and played unselfishly, and that’s all a coach can ask for.”
Coach Rubin thanked everyone from the bottom of his heart as he reminded the boys that “the luck of the draw and bad bounces” make a single-game elimination tournament that much harder.
Pee Wee Rangers captain PJ Neal reflected on the entire experience. He said, “It was amazing. Literally everything. The tubing, the billets, the Videotron Center, and the best hockey I’ve ever ever been a part of.”
For the New York Pee Wee Rangers the 2016 International Pee Wee Tournament of Quebec was over, but the memories, accomplishments, and the lessons learned will remain throughout their lives. Over the games and practices, the boys, individually and as a team, made huge progress. Off the ice, at the Cabane Sucre or tubing or just exploring the streets of old Quebec, the fun and opportunities were equally as great.
In the six games played over eight days in Quebec, the Pee Wee Rangers went 5-1 with 23 goals for and only 9 against. The goaltenders, Thomas Heaney and Daniel Gerst were excellent as were the defensemen Luke Lappe, Michael Rubin, Jake Geraci, Chase Ramsay, and Nicholas Wallace. The nine forwards – PJ Neal, Jake Bongo, Michael Emerson, Greg Spitznagel, Evan Brown, Dante Palombo, Daniel McKiernan, Joe Luff, and Jamison Moore – gave the Rangers timely scoring and committed backchecking every shift.
At the end of the day, the Pee Wee Rangers fell short of their dream of a championship. But that’s what can happen in a single-game elimination tournament where the bounce of the puck can make all the difference. Every player on the New York Pee Wee Rangers achieved his goal of developing his skills under the glaring spotlight of the greatest Pee Wee tournament in the world. The memories and lessons learned from Old Quebec will never be forgotten.