By Dan Walton
South Okanagan Sun Devils were swimming with the sharks last weekend, taking on teams out of their league as they hosted the 43rd Annual Atom Fiesta hockey tournament in Osoyoos and Oliver.
“We felt with all the kids we have on our team we can definitely play at a higher level,” said head coach Dean Maynard.
“They came a long way throughout the season. For our small town to compete against Tier I teams is an achievement for the whole team.”
The tournament started with a round robin format on Friday and Saturday and then teams that qualified – including the Sun Devils – were invited back on Sunday for the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the home team was eliminated on Sunday after a 5–1 loss to the Tri-City Americans from Kennewick, Washington.
Sun Devil Josh Hansen scored his team’s lone goal, which was assisted by Luke Jahn and Garret Janzen.
“(Sunday)’s game was more about having the kids get ready for next season and trying different things; putting them in different positions,” said Maynard. “It was for the kids to go out there, have a lot of fun and figure out their positioning for next year.”
Facing higher levels of competition was good practice for the Sun Devils who will be moving up from Atom to Peewee next year.
“They have more tryouts coming up,” he said.
Maynard said his team is very appreciative of the volunteers, parents, local businesses and South Okanagan Minor Hockey Association board members who make the Fiesta tournament happen every year.
“Without those volunteers and the people on that board, this town wouldn’t have the tournament,” he said. “It means a lot to those kids to see they have the support from the whole town of Osoyoos and Oliver.”
One of the Sun Devils, defenceman Danica Maynard, celebrated her 10th birthday on the final day of the tournament. She said the “funnest” part of the weekend was winning games, but she found the teams from outside of Canada were a bit of a challenge.
Her teammate Shea Ruck said his favourite part of the tournament was scoring two goals in one game. The Sun Devils managed to qualify for the playoffs thanks to their good passing and strong efforts, he said.
Another Sun Devil, Ryland Lebedoff, noticed much larger crowds were attending last weekend’s tournament compared to regular season games. And the hometown fans cheered them on when they needed it, he said.
“It kind of seems like American players get trained different,” said Lebedoff. “And they only send their best teams here.”
Even though the Sun Devils lost on Sunday, right winger Garret Janzen said it was the best part of the weekend.