Finishing a hockey season with a perfect record may seem an impossible feat, but a bantam AAA girls hockey team from northern New Brunswick has done just that.
The Northern Panthers, based in Miramichi, won the New Brunswick provincial championships this past weekend and are now heading to the Atlantic championship tournament, which will take place in Moncton April 6 - 9.
"It is a rarity for sure," said team manager Robert Holmes of the 29-0 record.
"We've been very fortunate this year to have a great group of players out there. We're getting ready now to head off to the Atlantics and hopefully continue that winning streak."
The Panthers dominated their league, with the 16 players from communities across northern New Brunswick, including Lamèque, Dalhousie and Tracadie.
Angele Doucet, a 15-year-old forward who travelled twice a week from her home in Baie-Sainte-Anne to practices in Saint-Isadore and Petit-Rocher, said the drive — one hour and 45 minutes each way — was worth it.
"It was a long distance to travel but I had great friends to carpool with, so it wasn't that bad," she said.
"It made us closer ... a close team plays better."
Emily Holmes of Miramichi, who plays defence, believes the extraordinary efforts team members made to practise and play together was a big part of their success on the ice.
"We were so lucky to have a team that was so committed — we travelled far for the practices, but the whole team managed to be there," she told Information Morning Moncton.
"Hard work and dedication can really take you places, and I'm proud to be a Panther."
Team heads to Atlantics
The team, coached by Eric Plourde and Danny Haché, now packs for Moncton, where Emily hopes the Panthers will continue their perfect record.
"I feel pretty confident that we have a good chance," Emily said. "I'd really like to play Newfoundland, considering we haven't played them yet. ... You never know what they're going to be like — anything could happen."
Holmes thinks Newfoundland will be the team to beat but is expecting the Northern Panthers to be competitive on the ice.
"We've got a great group of girls here. They've worked hard all year long, and we're really proud of what they've accomplished so far this year."
Whatever happens, Emily, who is in her final season at the Bantam level, will leave with good memories of the undefeated team, which she says "was just like a family ... we were all sisters."
Lots of fans
Holmes expects the stands in Moncton will be packed with northern fans for the Atlantic championships.
"There's a lot of hype in a lot of the areas and I think it's great," he said. "We're just hoping these girls are encouraging some of the younger girls in their communities to get involved in hockey."
Holmes expects many of the girls will come back next year and try for another perfect season.
"We've had some great coaching along the way and the girls practised hard, so I'm hoping they keep up the same philosophy next season that we may be able to do a repeat."