B.C. bronze medals have Merritt connection

By on May 18, 2017
Merritt’s Travis Stirling was a member of the B.C. team at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships, played in Duncan from May 1 to 6. (Photo contributed).

When a pair of teams representing B.C. picked up bronze medals at this year’s National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Duncan on Vancouver Island, they did so with considerable help from Merritt and the surrounding area.

Playing on the men’s squad was 17-year-old defenceman Travis Stirling, while behind the bench was head coach Joe Quewezance and safety official Briar McNaney.

On the women’s side of the draw, the Nicola Valley’s Desiree Gilchrist was one of the assistant coaches with the B.C. female team.

Stirling, a Grade 12 student at Merritt Secondary School, played this past season for McNaney on the Merritt tier 3 midget team. Quewezance was, until recently, the longtime recreation director and Shulus arena manager for the Lower Nicola Indian Band.

Stirling was one of over 100 young First Nations hockey players from across the province who attended a tryout camp in Prince George in early April. He was the final cut on defence, but got the call to play on the B.C. team when one of the D’men selected had to bow out.

“It was a very competitive camp,” said Stirling’s mom, Lisa DeWinter. “There were players there from tier 1 midget, major midget and even junior teams.”

The B.C. team convened in Shawnigan Lake on the Island a few days before the championships were slated to begin — in order to practise and get in a couple of exhibition games.

The bronze-medal-winning B.C. team with Stirling on crutches (back row, second from right), head coach Joe Quewezance (back row, fifth from left) and safety official Briar McNaney (back row, second from left). (Photo contributed).

Despite being number seven on the depth chart of defencemen, Stirling  played in three of his team’s first four games at the national aboriginal championships, which ran from May 1 to 6.

The B.C. team went undefeated in round robin play, knocking off Ontario 4-2, Eastern Door and the North 7-4 and the Atlantic 9-0.

B.C. won its quarterfinal match-up with Alberta 7-2 , but it was a costly victory for Stirling as he sustained a MCL injury to his knee that sidelined him for the remainder of the tournament.

B.C. had a bad game in the semis, losing 5-0 to Ontario.

In the bronze medal match-up, Stirling defeated Saskatchewan 5-2.

Stirling is hoping that he’s a fast healer. He has a summer of work ahead as a forest firefighter at the Merritt base station.

Come September, Stirling is hoping to be playing Junior B hockey for the Chase Heat. The team has shown quite a bit of interest.

“Travis [played as an associate player] with them this spring, and really liked the team and the coach.”

Gilchrist and B.C.’s female team also won bronze, following a thrilling 2-1 triple-overtime win over Alberta in the battle for third place.

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