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Selects hope to make history at home

This coming weekend will be one the Atom Selects remember for the rest of their lives.
The Westlock Atom Selects celebrate with some non-alcoholic champagne in the locker room following Saturday afternoon’s zone series win over Barrhead. The Selects
The Westlock Atom Selects celebrate with some non-alcoholic champagne in the locker room following Saturday afternoon’s zone series win over Barrhead. The Selects claimed the Zone 3 banner, beating Barrhead 12-11 in the two-game total-goals series. The club will now focus on the ‘B’ provincial championships, which come to Westlock this weekend.

This coming weekend will be one the Atom Selects remember for the rest of their lives.

Fresh off of Saturday’s Zone 3 two-game total-goals 12-11 triumph over Barrhead, the Selects have their sights set squarely on the Alberta Provincial ‘B’ Hockey Championship. Their first game goes Friday morning at 8 a.m. versus Duchess, with Game 2 slated for 4:30 p.m. against CNN. Opening ceremonies for the event begin at 7 p.m. at Jubilee Arena, while Game 3 versus Wetaskiwin goes Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m.

It’s been an up and down year for the squad with its share of highs and lows, learning and laughs. Enrolled for the first time ever in the Atom Tier 2 division of the 1660 Hockey League, Selects’ head coach Rick Dutchak said the learning curve has been high.

“It’s a high level for just starting out in the league. We ended up staying in the top division of Tier 2 and every game is tough, but we’re in the right division. It’s been a good thing and I think we’re stronger because of it,” Dutchak said.

“We knew we weren’t going to win the league, but we knew playing at this level would help our chances at provincials.”

Ultimately, playing against tougher competition will pay dividends not only at this tourney, but in the future careers of each of the Selects. The squad continues to wind its way through league playoffs, albeit an outright title is off the table.

In the run up to this weekend Dutchak said the squad, which counts four first-year players and 11 second-year vets, has become more cognizant of what’s at stake — the gravity of this tourney can be a little tough for nine and 10-year-olds to grasp. As a player Dutchak played in five provincial championships, scoring gold three-straight times. Yet despite his success, he never got a chance to play for a provincial title in Westlock.

“There’s excitement among the kids, but a lot of them aren’t sure of what to expect ... they’re a little nervous too,” said Dutchak, who said the year his club won the bantam ‘A’ provincial crown was the “icing on the cake” of their minor hockey careers.

“Provincials was always the highlight of the year. I mean I was pretty fortunate to be a part of some pretty talented groups. I have friends that can remember every game we played at provincials — it always sticks in your head.

“It will be neat for me now as coach to be a part of provincials here at home.”

As for a prediction, provincials are always a crapshoot — Vegas odds-makers wouldn’t touch a tourney like this with a 10-foot pole.

Certainly, the Selects have seen Barrhead, CNN and Duchess during the year, but gauging how his club will perform this weekend is tough, said Dutchak.

“Every year there are always upsets, it’s such a different dynamic. The teams that are supposed to win, it seems like there’s too much pressure on them, or they think it’s going to be easier than they thought and they get surprised by someone who comes out of nowhere. A goalie can get hot ... that’s the fun of it,” he said, noting this will be the first provincial championship for all of his players.

“They’re nine and 10 years old, so anything can happen. Everyone there can be beat.”

Regardless of the outcome on the ice, Dutchak said the event is one that the boys will never forget.

“Because it’s their first time and we’re hosting, it may be a little hard to convince them how hard it is just to make it to provincials. We don’t want to make them nervous, but it is special and rare to get a chance to play for a provincial title, especially one at home. This will be the climax of their season.

“It will be fun.”

Of course, just being able to host this event has been a huge undertaking — one that wouldn’t have been possible without huge support for the community and the team’s parents, who have helped organize the event.

“Thank God for (team manager and tourney organizer) Denise (Boulerice). She’s the one who has experience with these provincial bids. And we also drew from Bryan Carnegie who’s been involved in past provincial tournaments. The parents have also been great ... I know it’s been crazy for them. Kudos to them.”

“And it’s been really good as far as the community support. For a small community, Westlock really stepped up.”



George Blais

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