Panthers host, win All-Ontario Peewee Championship

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by Adam Gault
As they entered into last Monday’s first game of the 2018 All-Ontario Peewee Triple A Championship, the hosting Sun County Panthers knew the next five days promised to be a challenge in endurance and fortitude like no other.
 
By Friday afternoon, the team’s perseverance was rewarded, as it would leave the arena as the 2018 Peewee Champion.
 
Having qualified and been chosen as host for Ontario’s premier 12 and 13-year old hockey tournament, the Panthers were keenly aware of the additional pressures in defending home ice at the Essex Centre Sports Complex against some of the best young players from across the province.
 
“It’s a huge honour, to win the bid and host the tournament and have the best of the best come here,” Sun County Panthers General Manager, Cliff Tucker, said. “Knowing that some of these kids are going to end up in the OHL, possibly some of these kids here are going to be in the NHL and be your top players. Connor McDavid, Taylor Hall, they’ve all gone this route and they’re household names.”
The Panthers were off to a promising start right out of the gate, beating the Ottawa Myers Automotive 5-4, and routing the Nickel City Sons 9-2 in their second contest on Monday evening. This was followed by an equally decisive 6-1 victory over the Thunder Bay Kings the following afternoon.
On Wednesday, that momentum was temporarily put on hold as the Panthers were bested by the Mississauga Reps 9-1. The ship was quickly righted with Thursday’s victory over the Kitchener Jr. Rangers 3-2, leading the team to Friday’s semi-final game against Oakville.
 
“The development on [the Panthers] is unbelievable, especially with Coach Anger. He’s working with these kids right from September all the way through,” Tucker said, prior to Friday’s games. “These kids have a special talent. You don’t see this talent year-after-year. This 2005 [birth year] group is one of those exceptions where they’re very talented and able to compete with the top teams in Ontario and the United States.”
Despite falling behind to the Oakville Rangers in the semi-final contest, the Panthers rallied in the second period on the combined strength of their selfless teamwork, powered in part by Declan Waddick’s hat trick and Connor Tucker’s go-ahead goal, finishing the game with an 8-6 victory.
Destiny and a packed house awaited them later that night as they took on Ottawa once again, this time with the championship on the line.
 
A hard earned, shutout victory would be in the cards as the Panthers took the top prize, thanks, in no small part, to their own player of the game, goaltender Jaxon Drysdale, who led the team to celebrate their incredible accomplishment at centre ice.
Over 60 teams across Ontario battled all season to make it to this coveted event.
The tournament hosted 25 games over a five-day period from April 9, 2018 – April 13, 2018. It is estimated the community welcomed over 2500 players, coaches, delegates, fans, and spectators.