For the last four years the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian communities have come together to battle for Baltic hockey supremacy in North America. While the players are quite cordial with one another off the ice, on the ice it is a different matter. The players are out there to win and make many physical sacrifices for the win. This year was no different. All team have have improved greatly making for fast paced, exciting games. Infact, the round robin games were so close that the wins were won by one goal and one game was a tie.
The championship game was played on Friday, April 16th at the Mastercard Centre featuring the much improved Latvian team and three time defending North American Baltic Cup champions, the Estonians. Both teams showed up early and ready to get the game underway which was evident during the lengthy pre-game warm-up. Players were on the ice getting their legs moving, working on their passing, and warming up the goaltenders. "Playing in the championship game is always a thrill,"said Alex Kaju. "The stands are always packed, and the noise the fans make add an entirely new dimension to the game. If you're feeling a little tired when you get the arena, that feeling is certainly gone once you step on the ice and hear those fans cheering."
When the game finally got underway the Estonians carried the pace of play pinning the Latvians in their end of the ice. With crisp tape-to-tape passing, and working an agressive cycle along the boards the Estonian team was able to draw an early power-play. The top power-play unit consisting of Mike Auksi, Ian Mehisto, Alex Kaju, Paul Ehvert and Mihkel Poldma were put on the ice in hopes of getting the Estonians an early lead. This group of players passed the puck around quickly, exhausting the Latvian defenders allowing tournament leading scorer, Mike Auksi, to open the scoring. Shortly after, Mike potted a second goal to give the Estonians a 2-0 lead.
After gaining that 2-0 lead the Estonians never looked back. The other Estonian goal scorers on the evening were Adam Migur with a hat trick, Mikk Toome and Andreas Menes with one goal each. "What impressed me tonight was the balanced attack. The majority of our scoring has come from our top two lines, but seeing our third line contribute on the scoresheet was definitely a pleasant surprise. Any time you can have all three lines pressuring your opponents it is a good evening. It tires them out quickly, which causes mistakes. And we certainly capitalized on those mistakes tonight," said coach and co-General Manager Paul Marley.
At the conclusion of the dominating 7-2 win for the Estonians the two teams met at centre ice for post game handshakes. Lithuanian team organizer Ed Gincauskas came to centre ice with the trophy that both teams had competed so courageously for, the North American Baltic Cup. Estonian team captain Robi Trei had the honour of accepting the trophy for the fourth straight year. "The games have been really close this year as all three teams are working hard to find new talented members from their communities to come play for them. The Latvians have improved a great deal this year. In the previous three years of this tournament we had never lost to them, but we lost our opening game to them 3-2. I think that was a good reality check for us that if we wanted to win the Baltic Cup again we would need to work much harder," captain Trei mentioned after the game.
Post game celebrations were held at the Maple Leaf House Grille & Lounge with both teams and many fans in attendance. Players and fans alike sat around enjoying cold drinks and dinner talking about the this year's tournament and very much looking forward to next year's games.
The players from the Estonian hockey team would like to thank the many fans who came out and cheered their team on to victory throughout the season. And of course this season would not have been possible without the enthusiastic support of team sponsor the National Estonian Foundation in Canada.
North American Baltic Cup Championship Game