Beavers building up for first title chase

The Cherry Cup is arguably the most prestigious award in hockey in the Cayman Islands. After a season that spanned some three months two teams are left to chase after the sport’s greatest prize.

Tuesday marks the start of the Cherry Cup finals at the Logic arena of Kings Sports Centre. Squaring off at 8pm in hopes of their first title is the Budget Beavers and the Islanders. Both teams have varying backgrounds in the Logic Adult Roller Hockey League. Budget is a perennial powerhouse that has had its title hopes dashed over the last five years by their arch-rivals the High Rollers. The Islanders have hovered at the bottom of the standings for years though the side has made deep playoff runs for two straight seasons.

Both clubs head into game one upbeat about their chances for success. Arguably the most confident are the Beavers, as team captain and top scorer Mark Missal states the title is theirs for the taking.

We just need to play a strong all-around game and we can beat the Islanders,” Missal said. “As long as we don’t beat ourselves we should be fine. Its our time to win the Cherry Cup!”

A run to the championship would almost be poetic for the Beavers. 2010 marked the club’s first-ever losing season as they finished third in the standings at 4-5-1. However the side had many positives such as Missal being the league’s top scorer and Ryan Vanderwal ranking among the top goalies. So far the playoffs have offered a chance at redemption as Budget vanquished their old nemesis the High Rollers by a final score of 6-5.

Last week’s result was a big morale boost for Budget as, Missal states, the club dealt with a short bench.

“We got some solid goal-tending from Ryan (Vanderwal) last Tuesday. He made some big saves to keep us in it until we got some offence rolling. Good steady game by the whole team, we were a bit short on the bench, but we played through it and pulled off the win.”

Dan Etherington (whose nickname is “Tin-man”)had a part to play in that contest. The High Rollers’ leading scorer during the regular season also had the most points for his club with five. He’s currently the coach for the Stuart Panthers youth hockey team (which plays in the Logic Youth Roller Hockey League). After last week’s loss he states his focus is on getting better for next Spring.

“I’ve been in Cayman two and a half years and I’m trying to stay on-island longer,” Etherington said. “I only started playing hockey here a year ago. Mind you I’ve been skating well over 15 years coming from Canada and I joke with people I can skate better than I can walk. But this off-season my focus will be on skating, footwork and putting in more work on my hockey skills.”

The story for the Islanders has been about changes (which go beyond their new orange uniforms designed by Cayman Screen Print). Last season’s squad, which advanced to the Cherry Cup finals for the first time, is different. Gone are stalwart Patrick Bourque and scoring sensation Ben Rivard. Making up for their departures is ball hockey player Rob Rintoul who ended up in the top 20 in scoring.

Paul Peene has been on the Islanders team for years (like veteran Dave Champoux) and states the mind-set heading into the finals is for personal improvement.

“The Beavers are a very high quality team and the challenge will be a great one,” Peene said. “I should clarify however that we are not out to beat the Beavers per se, rather we are continuing our focus on performing to our best ability, as individual skaters but most importantly as a team. Our best is our primary desired achievement. The number of goals for or against is secondary although we certainly aim to also have a good outcome.

“We have to just focus on the task at hand. Being down three goals for the majority of the game (against the Barracudas) required a special type of concentrated focus. We are very pleased with our performances.”

Game two is Wednesday 15 December at 8pm and if necessary game three is Sunday 19 December at 9am.

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