The Lower Mainland Thunder went from an expansion National Ringette League club to national champions in April, making it the Burnaby NOW's sports story of the year.
Run by the league after private ownership dried up the season before, but bankrolled by the players themselves, the seventh-ranked Thunder knocked off the top four clubs in the country, including three from back east in a two-day span, to win the first-ever Canadian ringette title in any division for B.C.
The host Thunder handed Eastern conference regular season champion Montreal Mission just its third loss of the year, upsetting the high-scoring Quebec club 7-2 in the gold medal final at the Bill Copeland Sports Centre.
First team all-star forward Salla Kyhala was the tournament MVP, scoring four goals in the final to lead the Lower Mainland team to its history-making win.
"This is where I saw the team going," said Kyhala, who had nine goals and two assists in her last three games. "Our defence scored, other people scored - I saw us as a team that we could do this. I saw us going this way - we can do this."
Jennifer Wakefield joined tournament high-scorer Kyhala and defender Melanie Thomas on the NRL tournament first team.
Wakefield, who enjoyed two of her nine previous national ringette titles with the Eastern runner-up Cambridge Turbos, helped the Thunder defeat her former club 6-2 in a must-win matchup leading up to the final.
"It is so special," added Wakefield of the team's true amateur commitment to the game. "(The women) are so deserving. I'm so proud to be a part of this team - we love ringette and would do anything to play."
But perhaps a more perfect ending was orchestrated by Burnaby's Julia Scigliano, the longest-serving
player on the Lower Mainland team. Scigliano keyed the Thunder victory in the championship final with the game-opening goal from a shot in front that beat Montreal keeper Claudia Jetté high to the glove side at 4: 23 of the first period.
"Everything is so unbelievable right now. I'm the only player from Burnaby. It's so special to all of us. Seeing everyone's faces - everyone up there (in the stands) is so excited - everyone I grew up with in Burnaby was watching. To score that first goal, I will never forget that."