The Fraser Valley Rush will have another chance at potentially claiming B.C.'s first-ever gold medal at the national girls' under-18 AAA hockey championships this month following a second straight Pacific title this past weekend.
The team includes two returning Tri-Cities athletes in Leah Barnard (Anmore) and Gillian Lapierre (Port Coquitlam), both of which helped the Rush defeat the Alberta-champion Red Deer Chiefs 2-0 in the best-of-three regional finals' series.
And this time, Leah's younger sister Erica will be joining the journey in hopes of hoisting the 2023 Esso Cup by tournament's end.
Fraser Valley shut out the Chiefs in the opening match 3-0 on Friday (April 7) and booked their ticket to Prince Albert, Sask., on Saturday (April 8) with a 5-2 triumph. Both games were played in Red Deer.
This followed a 2-0 series sweep of the Thompson-Okanagan Lakers to claim a sixth BC Elite Hockey League (BCEHL) provincial trophy in team history.
The 18-year-old alternate captain recorded a league-high 26 goals and 34 assists in 31 games to earn the honour in helping the Rush to a 30-game win streak.
The club's final record was 30-2 by the end of the regular season, and Barnard added eight more points in the playoffs.
The 18-year-old forward tallied a team-high four assists and five points in seven Esso Cup games last year.
Earlier this year, she committed to St. Mary's University in Halifax, N.S., for the 2023-24 season, also in U SPORTS.
Meanwhile, Erica Barnard had a breakout season in yellow and navy.
The 16-year-old averaged more than a point per game en route to posting 33 points (11 goals and 22 assists) in 32 regular-season games, adding one more marker in the playoffs.
In 2022, the Rush lost 4-0 in the Esso Cup gold medal game to the Durham West Lightning (Ontario) to complete a 4-3 record at the tourney.
Now ranked first in the country heading into the tournament, Fraser Valley is hoping to use its experience and strong offensive core to get over the finish line and bring a Hockey Canada banner home.
The 2023 Esso Cup is scheduled for April 23 to 29, hosted by the Prince Albert Bears.
Five of the six teams set to compete are already determined, but the Rush still don't know who they'll play first.
The Barnards and Lapierre are set to face-off against the winner of the Ontario female under-18 AAA championships on April 23 at 2:30 p.m. Pacific time.