The PeeWee 'AAA' Paper Kings represented Northwestern Ontario—and Canada—at the Paul Bunyan International PeeWee Hockey Tournament held Dec. 28-30 in Bemidji, Mn.
The team features local players Teagan Wrolstad, Royce Allan, Dakato Cooper, and Hayden Beckett, and is coached by Rooke Pitura of Kenora along with Corrie Trist and Jody Reid of Dryden.
The Paper Kings' first game against the Devils Lake Flames (North Dakota) was a very tight one, with the teams evenly matched.
The Paper Kings scored the opening goal on a point shot from Reid Pitura but the Flames answered with two quick tallies of their own.
Then in the third period, Devils Lake added a power-play goal and an empty-netter for a 4-1 win.
This was a really fast, tight-checking game," said Rooke Pitura.
“The score was not at all indicative of the play," he stressed. "With a few bounces our way instead of theirs, we could have been victorious.”
The Paper Kings then squared off against the Eveleth-Gilbert Golden Bears in their second game.
The Golden Bears scored the lone goal in the first period, then added another in the first minute of the second to jump out to a 2-0 lead.
But the Paper Kings soon sprung to life—going on to score eight-straight goals before securing a 10-3 victory.
“This was a bit of a scrappy game, we definitely started off slowly,” Trist admitted.
“But once we found our stride, we were simply the much better team.”
Then in the final game of round-robin play, the Paper Kings squared off against host Bemidji. In what was a very physical, fast-paced game, Bemidji held a 1-0 lead after the first period.
Each team then traded several scoring chances in the second frame, with the Paper Kings tying the game on a nice goal by Hudson Favreau.
Kenray Gallagher drew the lone assist.
Brady Richards then scored a beautiful solo effort with an end-to-end rush to put the Paper Kings up 2-1.
Favreau had a strong game, and his tremendous hustle and effort was on full display when he was able to fight of two checkers while securing the win with an empty-netter.
The Paper Kings went 2-1 in the round-robin, which put them in a three-way tie for first place in their pool.
Unfortunately, a goals for and against formula was used and the local squad wound up placing third in the pool, which set up a consolation semi-final showdown with the Minot Wolves.
The Paper Kings, feeling a little let down, came out pretty flat and found themselves down 2-0 early on.
Making matters worse, the Paper Kings had 10-straight minor penalties called against them.
But with tremendous grit and determination, the squad were able to kill off several penalties and actually tied the game at 2-2 in the second frame.
Then in the third, Teagan Wrolstad put the Paper Kings ahead off a great feed from Jeremy Reid.
That lead looked to be secure until a failed clearing pass resulted in the Wolves knotting the game at 3-3 with under two minutes to go to force overtime.
The parade to the penalty box continued in the extra frame, with Bemidji scoring the game-winning goal on a 5-on-3 power play.
“The coaches could not be more proud of the effort these young boys put forth,” Pitura lauded.
"We killed several penalties [and] showed an incredible amount of courage to come back in this game despite the penalty trouble.
“[We] didn't get the win on the scoreboard but we learned a lot about our team,” he added.
“Despite the loss, I'm very happy with this group.”
Their final game of the consolation round was against Thief River Falls.
The first period was scoreless thanks to James Sinclair, who stopped three breakaways in the frame.
Then the first half of the second period was all Thief River Falls as they scored two quick goals.
The Paper Kings responded with two quick strikes of their own, however, and the game was tied after two periods of play.
The third frame was back-and-forth, with each team trading goals before Thief River Falls pulled ahead 4-3 with five minutes to go.
But showing some resilience, the Paper Kings found a way to battle back when Reid tied it up late to force overtime.
Then less than a minute into the extra frame, Royce Allen scored the game-winner for the Paper Kings.
“It's a real challenge trying to put together a team like this with players from all over the region,” Pitura conceded.
“We only had a few practices together but these boys have come together in a short amount of time and have embraced the fact that we are playing for each other,” he remarked.
“Our goal is to challenge the Thunder Bay 'AAA' Kings in March when we host them in Kenora [on] March 15-17 with a chance to go on to provincials,” Pitura added.
“This is an awesome group of kids who are a true pleasure to coach,” he enthused.