The Yale Lions U-18 squad just after winning the Chicago tournament.

The Yale Lions U-18 squad just after winning the Chicago tournament.

Lions hockey grabs gold in U.S. U-16 tournament

Yale Secondary squad beats high-ranked U.S. teams in Chicago tournament.

The Chicago World Bauer Invite tournament is the biggest of its kind on the planet, and draws hockey teams from all over North America. Some of the biggest names in the U.S. are yearly participants, including the colourfully titled Compuware, Little Ceasars and Honeybaked squads, but this year it was a foreign dark horse that took the top honours.

Foreign meaning Canadian, and “dark horse” referring to the Yale Secondary Lions’ longevity, rather than their skill.  This is only the second year the Yale Hockey Academy has fielded a team in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL), and the first year that the team has competed in the Chicago tournament.

The Lions are a recent addition to the field, and yet their star has been rising fast. The U-18 team that competed in Chicago from Nov 7 to 9 (as a U-16 squad because of different American regulations) is currently ranked first in Canada, and didn’t drop a single game on their way to the tournament finals

The Lions eventually met the second-ranked U.S. team, Honeybaked, in the tournament finals. After an exhilarating game with multiple lead changes, Yale pulled out a 4-3 victory thanks to goals by Tak Anholt, Luke Warkentin, Kohen Olischefski and Dryden Michaud. According to coach Brad Bowen, the last nine seconds, in which Honeybaked won four faceoffs in the Lions’ zone, were the most intense of the entire three-day tournament. The American squad would win the draw and immediately shoot, forcing Yale goalie Liam Hughes to smother the puck for another faceoff.

Thirteen NCAA Div. 1 coaches were in the crowd for the final game, scouting for their respective schools. Honeybaked is a storied team that includes such NHL stars as Ryan Kesler and David Booth among its alumni.

Once Yale started demolishing the opposition, academy director Billy Wilms fielded dozens of curious questions from parents and fans about the program. Apparently he wasn’t the only one being asked, as he found out during a conversation with the Yale University hockey coach later in the tournament.

“Everybody thought we were from New Haven, Conn.,” said Wilms. “The Yale coach asked me, ‘You know how many people I’ve had to tell that we don’t have a hockey academy, that you’re from British Columbia, Canada?’”

Most of the Yale Lions team has been part of the academy since Grade 6, and almost the entire roster hails from the Lower Mainland. Wilms credits the depth of the program’s skill development and game preparation for the squad’s success.

The Lions will be in action again this weekend in the Yale Showcase at the Abbotsford Centre. The Lions will take on the nationally third-ranked Edge (Calgary, Alta.) Friday at 1 p.m.