The Merritt U13 minor hockey team became hometown heroes as they skated to victory in their home tournament on Feb. 18.

The tournament, which took place at Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, saw teams from neighbouring towns and cities competing for the coveted title.

However, it was the host team that emerged victorious, much to the delight of hockey fans in Merritt.

“They’ve come a long way this year,” Coach Brad Denton said. “This tournament brought some really good competition to our boys and they rose to the occasion, right?”

Denton recalls the journey throughout the tournament.

“We did have a loss during the round-robin, which we haven’t lost the game in a long time, so that was kind of like a wake up call that when we get into playoffs, which are next weekend, they’re going to see some good competition,” he added.

Denton, who has worked as an assistant coach for a while, took the role of coach for the youth 13 division where he coaches his son.

He described the team as “a really nice group of kids” who are very coachable.

“If I can teach them things and plan my practices, so that there’s a lot of learning and fun going on, then that’s what I tried to do. I try to be super organized,” Denton said.

According to Denton, the kids were super happy with their achievement.

“We’ve been in two other tournaments this year, and came close, but lost in semi finals and I think we finished third once. So it was nice to be able to do that (win a tournament) at home and it didn’t come easy,” he added. “So when the boys won, it was kind of like kind of something they hadn’t seen this year yet as far as tournaments go, right but they were challenged and they met the challenge, so we’re happy.”

Denton added that the tournament came at a perfect time, as the team prepares for the upcoming playoffs.

“I think we’ve been moving on an upward trajectory. The whole season and the playoffs are gonna be tough, we’re gonna see some teams we haven’t seen since the beginning of the season that were put in a different division,” he said. “And I think we can do it, I’m sure we can do it. But we’re going to be in tough (playoffs), it’s going to be some tough competition.”

For Denton, this achievement couldn’t have been possible without the help of some key factors.

“(I’d like to give) a shoutout to all the organizers and parent helpers, it’s a ton of work and usually the coach gets to focus on the coaching part,” he added. “All this stuff that goes on behind the scenes for a tournament like that is a huge undertaking. We haven’t had a youth 13 rep hockey tournament since pre-COVID-19. It was just awesome that we were able to make happen then have success.”