When it mattered most, Ashley Specht stepped forward.
Dedicated to the team concept that epitomized the Richmond Ravens this season, Specht scored one goal and assisted on another by Sophia Buckberger—both during the same shorthanded sequence—in the BC Hockey Female Midget A provincial championships final on March 24 in Fort St. John. The goals helped the Ravens to an eventual 4-0 victory over the South Island Royals, and Richmond’s fifth B.C. title under head coach AJ Sander.
In reflecting on the Ravens’ 2018-19 season, Sander speaks often of the all-for-one mantra. Following the championship win, he again emphasized how the latest success was the result of every player contributing to the end goal.
“They all bought into the concept of playing as a team,” he says proudly. “We didn’t talk about winning but being successful. We told the players they would play this (BC final) game when the team was being picked. It was always about being positive, while making sure we worked hard and our consistency showed through all the games at the provincials.”
After failing to qualify for the provincials last season—for the first time under Sander’s guidance—this season was about getting back on top of the mountain, he says. And rarely was there a moment the Ravens didn’t believe.
A group of six returning players, backstopped by goaltender Brynn Waisman, established the standards early and the rookies quickly followed suit. A commitment to defence saw the team surrender only 64 goals in 62 games, while the offence was equally proficient with 220 goals for.
As this season wore on, the Ravens became increasingly strong, losing only once in the last three months. They were undefeated through the playoffs and in their five games at provincials.
And when they did face adversity, the Ravens responded.
At the provincials, they again faced longtime rival North Shore, with whom they battled neck-and-neck for league honours. Down 2-0 with 14 minutes to play, the Ravens found a way to rebound for a 3-3 tie. Sander chalks it up to all the training that gave the players the physical stamina and mental focus that was required.
As a coach, Sander has built an impressive resume since his first foray as an assistant in boys’ hockey while still attending high school. He’s now coached well over 1,500 games—the vast majority wins.
Since he began coaching female hockey, Sander says he’s seen the game grow—both in terms of participation and the respect it is afforded. While he would love nothing more than for the West Coast to have a franchise in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, he believes if a player is good enough to reach the next level, she’ll be recognized.
“A local team would be advantageous and boost interest in female hockey,” Sander says. “It’s like when we had the Olympics, registration went up. But overall our numbers (in B.C.) aren’t there right now. They’re much larger back east. But having a team here would help increase the numbers.”
• The Ravens will wind up their season this weekend (March 29 to 31) at Richmond’s 22nd annual Ice Classic Female Hockey Tournament at the Ice Centre. Teams from throughout North America will participate in the season-ending event at the midget, bantam, peewee, atom and novice levels.
RICHMOND RAVENS MIDGET A
Goal: Brynn Waisman
Erika Palmierei (associate captain), Aish Sander (captain), Grace Wallace, Annalisle Wong, Cailey Wong
Sophia Buckberger, Megan Dillon, Emily Dragecevic, Julie Farkasch (associate captain), Olivia Northrup, Sydney Payment, Amanda Phillips, Jenna Proulx (associate captain), Ashley Specht, Emma Tait
AJ Sander (head coach), Natasha Steblin (associate coach), Rachel Coulson (associate coach), Tamara Wong (associate coach), Satwant Bhatia-Sander (trainer)