Dream finish to rookie season

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Matthew Gourlie
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Moose Jaw's Jensen Hammer elated to win Esso Cup with Weyburn

Jensen Hammer answered her phone and apologized that she couldn't talk right then — she had to meet Weyburn mayor Debra Button.

Weyburn Gold Wings

It's safe to say life has been a little on the surreal side since the 16-year-old Moose Jaw hockey player and her Weyburn Gold Wings teammates returned home as national champions. Despite being greeted by television cameras at the Regina airport and signing autographs for strangers in Weyburn, Hammer said it still hasn't sunk in that she won the Esso Cup on Saturday.

"Honestly this is a dream come true. Winning the Esso Cup doesn't even seem like reality yet. I'll be sitting at home and think 'holy crap, we won the Esso Cup!' It just doesn't seem real yet," said Hammer. "I can't describe the feeling of holding the Esso Cup in my hands. We wanted to make Saskatchewan proud and our parents proud. So it was a great feeling."

The Gold Wings beat the Edmonton Thunder 2-1 in Saturday's nationally televised midget female national championship hockey game in Stoney Creek, Ont.

Gold Wings forward Tessa Wilson from Mazenod opened the scoring in the final. Bailee Bourassa doubled their lead early in the third period. Brett Campbell got Edmonton on the board with just under 13 minutes to play, but goalie Jane Kish and the Gold Wings defence stood up.

"We knew we had to get that first goal and then once we got that, we knew that getting the second goal was really going to be crucial," said Hammer who admitted she was nervous about the prospect of sudden death overtime as they clung to their one-goal lead. "Our defence was strong and we didn't panic at the end. We were able to keep the puck in their end, so I knew it was all going to be OK."

With no midget AAA program in Moose Jaw, Hammer had always dreamed of playing in Weyburn. She went to their spring camp two years ago which only fed her desire to make the team. She went back last year and also attended training camp with Swift Current. This year, her first as a midget-aged player, the Grade 10 student cracked a spot on the Gold Wings roster.

"Last year I tried out for Swift, but I still knew I wanted to play for Weyburn. Ever since I came down to spring camp in Grade 8, I knew it was a great program," she said. "The girls were so bonded and there were no cliques, I always wanted to play for a team that was like that."

Hammer scored three goals and had seven points in 27 regular season games with the Gold Wings. She also scored a goal during the playoffs. She moved to Weyburn and lives with a billet family. It's a big change, but she has no regrets about the decision to leave home at 15.

"When I was at the fall camp (head coach/GM Chad Kish) asked my mom if she was ready for me to leave home. I made her say yes, but she was not ready for her baby to move away," said Hammer who is the youngest in her family. "I convinced her because she knew I wanted to do this and she knew I wanted to follow my dreams. I have wanted to play on this team since Grade 8."

The Gold Wings finished 16 points behind the Regina Rebels in the Sask. Female Midget AAA Hockey League standings. Yet, they prevailed in the playoffs unseating the Rebels as champions in four games in the championship series.

They lost the first game of their Western Regional best-of-three series to the Pembina Valley Hawks from Manitoba before winning the final two games to advance to the Esso Cup.

"When we won the league that boosted our confidence that we could win regionals and once we won regionals that boosted our confidence at the Esso Cup," said Hammer.

The Rebels didn't lose a game in Saskatchewan the year before, but early in this current season they started to believe that they could contend at that elite level.

"Our assistant coach Al Whitrow said he had his bar set high for us. He gave us a big speech because we weren't playing well in that game. He boosted our confidence," said Hammer. "We all remember that game and ever since, we started to reach higher and our success started to build from there. We knew we could do it."

Wilson, Kish and captain Caitlin Dempsey are all going to play at the University of Regina next season and Whitney Thorp is headed to play for NAIT.

Hammer's dream is to follow in their footsteps.

"I'm really looking forward to the next two years and if I get to play university hockey after my Grade 12 year that's all I could ask for. I've been wanting to play university hockey since I started playing girls hockey back in pee wee," said Hammer.

Hammer said that they cheered on Prince Albert to their Telus Cup win in Moose Jaw as they made their way home. She said they took some pride in the fact that both midget titles went to Saskatchewan teams.

Weyburn has been showing a lot of pride in the Gold Wings. She said that the city of 10,000 is excited about their national championship. The team met the mayor and received a certificate from the City.

"It's been crazy. The high school kids are excited for us, but they don't really show it, but they're still excited. Older people in Weyburn were out to cheer us on. Weyburn was definitely really excited for us to get home," said Hammer who also added that not everything has changed since becoming a national champion.

"I actually have a lot of homework. The teachers did not ease up when we got back," she said.

Organizations: Esso, Edmonton Thunder 2, Grade 10 Pembina Valley Hawks University of Regina Prince Albert Telus

Geographic location: Weyburn, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan Regina Stoney Creek Edmonton Swift Current Manitoba

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