Two teams from Hockey Abitibi-Témiscamingue reached the top of the podium, winning gold at the 2011 Inter-regional Hockey Championships, much to the delight of the James Bay Cree community of Wemindji. The Atom A Wemindji Future Wolves and Midget A Wemindji Paint Hills both swept their competition in the Laurentides-Lanaudière tournament to claim the Western Quebec Championship in their respective divisions.

It was an exciting and sometimes very physical road to gold for the Midget A Wemindji Paint Hills. The club opened the tournament with a 2-0 victory in a penalty-filled game against Tempêtes Monteuil. Paint Hills held on to win on goals by Tyler Shanush and Matthew Asquabaneskum. A total of 62 minutes in penalties were handed out, including 10-minute misconducts for verbal abuse of officials and unsportsmanlike conduct called against two members of the Tempêtes.

“There were a lot of unnecessary penalties called in that game,” said Wemindji Paint Hills coach Dusty McBrine. “During intermission, we told the boys to stay focused; we have the lead, get reenergized and don’t give (the referees) a chance to call penalties.”

The club needed overtime to put away As de Lachenaie in their second game. Albert Atsynia gave Paint Hills the early 1-0 lead but Lachenaie forced overtime on a goal with just over two seconds remaining in the third period.

“We hit the goalpost on an empty net in the dying seconds of that game and were called for icing with about five seconds left,” recalled McBrine. “They won the faceoff and scored with just two seconds left. That was tough, but I told the boys all we have to do is score first. I stressed no penalties, just skate hard and shoot on net.”

The coach’s advice paid off as Shanush capped the victory with the winning goal on a breakaway at the 2:24 mark of overtime. McBrine had nothing but praise for Shanush who was also named one of the tournament’s top players.

“Shanush is not just a good hockey player, but also a good role model for his teammates. He plays hard every game and academically he is doing very well.”

Paint Hills moved on to the final after a relatively easy win over Castors de Buckingham. Two first-period goals by Atsynia and Silas Katapatuk, whose goal proved to be the winner, lead the way. Third-period insurance goals, scored 16 seconds apart by Tyler Stanton Stewart and Kyle Cheezo, sealed a 4-1 Paint Hills victory and berth in the final. But the Paint Hills squad needed to stage a comeback to clinch top honours in their Championship game versus the Riverains Est Bécancour.

“We were down 2-0 after the second period in the final,” said McBrine. “We just told the boys that this is the last game and there is lots of time to score, just go out and shoot, shoot, shoot. “Remember, (the As de Lachenaie) scored against us with just two seconds left and it isn’t over until it is over.”

Paint Hills responded with their first of four unanswered goals at the 0:09 mark of the third period on a goal by Shanush. Taryn Shashaweskum tied the score just over six minutes into the third period, setting the stage for two unassisted goals 1:27 apart by Cheezo and Shashaweskum, sealing the Riverains fate and giving Paint Hills a 4-2 victory and the gold medal.

When asked if any Wemindji Paint Hills players stood out in his mind at this tournament, McBrine did not hesitate to respond.

“I am proud of all these boys, but I want to talk about what a role model Taryn (Shashaweskum) has been. Taryn has a great attitude on and off the ice: not only in the dressing room and during the game but travelling, in the hotels and on the bus. He is an all-round good kid. I don’t know whether I should say this but he had struggled at school, but this year he is at the top of his class academically and has progressed so well.”

Over the course of the tournament, Shashaweskum was invited to join a AAA team next season, proving that his hard work and good attitude is paying off.

Wemindji Future Wolves clinch Atom A Gold

It was no less exciting for the Wemindji Future Wolves on their path to the Atom A championship, with three of their four tournament games settled in overtime or shootout. During their first game of the tourney, the Future Wolves twice trailed by five goals before rallying to take a 7-6 third-period lead, and eventually winning 8-7 in overtime on Felix Stephen’s fourth goal of the game.

Another four-goal performance by Stephen, as well as four goals from Sebastian Stephen powered the Future Wolves to a 10-8 victory over Archer St-Gabriel. Felix Stephen was again the hero in the Future Wolves’ third tournament victory over Aigles Montérégie. After blowing a four-goal lead that had been built on the strength of two quick second-period goals by Evan Kakabat, Stephen punched the Future Wolves ticket to the final with the winner at 5:05 of the overtime frame.

It was more of the same suspense for Future Wolves’ fans during the Championship game versus the Waterloo Maroons, as the Future Wolves had to overcome two-goal deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to force overtime, leading to a shootout to determine a Champion. The decisive goal in the shootout was scored by Felix Stephen, the team’s leading scorer in the tournament, while Evan Kakabat, Grant Kakabat and Sebastian Stephen each tallied in regulation.