ESCANABA - Just two weeks after watching an exciting hockey game on TV from Vancouver, a group of local skaters provided a similar opportunity in person.
Sunday, Northern Michigan Bank Hawks won the PeeWee B state championship at Wells Sports Complex. Much like the Canadians at the Olympics, they went into overtime to claim the gold medal, prompting a similar impromptu celebration that brought smiles to the faces of many spectators.
The long, bouncing overtime goal by Riley Stenfors elicited controlled pandemonium, but also left a crestfallen Keweenaw Bay Cougars goalie (Michael Turunen) who endured the worst possible feeling of dejection with that crazy hop.
Escanaba Northern Michigan Bank won the state PeeWee B hockey championship Sunday at Wells Sports Complex, beating Keweenaw Bay Cougars 3-2 in overtime. The team includes: front, Jack Valentine; left from bottom of sign, Sergei LaMarche, Nathan Hauke, Zach Rudden; right side of banner from bottom, Jack Williams, Nick Quinn, Rory Chaillier; from left holding the banner, Riley Stenfors, Blaine Borman, Robert McGaffigan, Kyle Egner; back row, coach Mike Borman, coach Mark Hauke, Hunter Murray, Josh Nelson, Keegan Porath, coach Bob Stenfors, Brandon Punzel and coach Bill Quinn. (Daily Press photo by Dennis Grall)
It was a heckuva way to win, but the loss may have been most undeserving. No one should have to suffer that kind of fate.
That bounce put the NMB players (ages 11-12) on the top of their little hockey world, but it does not give them automatic entry into the next level, or other levels beyond this season.
Some of these boys may play for Escanaba High School and some may not even be playing hockey when they are at EHS. That doesn't matter now, when they should just be enjoying their wonderful accomplishment.
Escanaba coach Charlie Elliott knows fully it does not provide any guarantees. He played on a championship team at age 16 and played three seasons at Michigan State University, but he had to earn that right. It was not given to him.
"When you are the best at a certain level, the key is to be the best at the next level," Elliott said this week. "There is no entitlement to being the best next year. You have to earn it all over again."
Being the best player NMB Hawks, or not even making that team, will have no bearing on becoming an Eskymo. Some players improve with age, some level out, some actually slide down the pecking order.
Today's biggest player may not grow much, while today's smallest player may get taller, bigger and stronger and become that year's big player. No guarantees.
"The odds continue to be stacked against you as you go to the upper levels," said Elliott. "There are more players, more competition."
He said one of the best things a player can take out of this triumph is "learning to win and expecting to win. That is something that is a real learned trait, something you do at a young age is a great building block. Let's expect to do it again."
At the high school level, where the Eskymos collected a school-record 20 wins this season for only their sixth winning season since their inception in 1984, he said "we need kids who want to win and expect to win. This gives those kids a little confidence going forward. They say, hey, we can do this."
Whatever happens in their hockey futures, this group can always lace up the skates knowing they had what it took to be the best that day. That is pretty awesome.