Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte
The closer the end of the minor hockey season neared, and as the undefeated streak continued for the Quinte West U15 Golden Hawks, the chances increased that their first loss could come at the worst possible time.
That’s exactly what happened.
The host Golden Hawks were edged 2-1 by the Hamilton Huskies in the final of the Ontario Hockey Federation U15 ‘A’ championship tournament this past weekend in Trenton. The OHF tournament, which is the ultimate championship of the season, brought together the winners and runners-up of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (Quinte West and Owen Sound Jr. Attack, respectively) and Minor Hockey Alliance of Ontario (London Jr. Knights and Hamilton) as well as the Northern Ontario Hockey Association (Chapleau Huskies).
Normally the host team is granted a berth in the tournament, but the Golden Hawks earned their way there as the OMHA champion and went 2-0-2 in round-robin play and before defeating Owen Sound in the semifinals.
All of the victories throughout the season were little consolation in the immediate aftermath of the OHF final defeat.
“Honestly, they were devastated,” said coach Mike Belej. “I think what makes it tougher is they hadn’t had to face much of that adversity throughout the season. A little bit of adversity at the OMHA tournament, but we haven’t lost. They had never tasted that defeat so they were heartbroken and I felt terrible (for them). For what it’s worth to them, what can you say to them?”
There was certainly no disappointment from their coach. Belej was proud of how they played in the championship game and the whole tournament really, save for a less than stellar performance Saturday night in a 2-2 tie against winless Chapleau.
Quite possibly the worst game of the season for the Golden Hawks, Belej thought, but perhaps not expected being the Saturday night of the tournament and a semifinal spot clinched while Chapleau was playing its final contest at the Duncan MacDonald Memorial Gardens.
Quinte West reset for Sunday’s championship day.
“We came out and we were a totally different team. Had we played in the finals (like Saturday night), it would have been disappointing,” Belej said.
Belej had great confidence in his group tied 1-1 in the championship game heading into the third period. He had seen that script many times before with the story ending in a victory for the Golden Hawks.
“We’re a third-period team. The semifinals against Owen Sound we were down 1-0 going into the third and we’re just that team, we push and push and push,” Belej said. “You could tell during the second period of the semifinal against Owen Sound where we were coming on strong…and we scored four. That’s just what we do.”
The Golden Hawks expected a tough battle in the final. They had played Hamilton to a 3-3 draw earlier in the tournament while also collecting victories of 5-0 over Owen Sound and 8-2 over London in preliminary play.
Belej thought “we’re going to wear them down, they’re starting to crack, you can see it, but all the kudos to Hamilton because they came out in the third and we just threw everything at them and they didn’t bend.
“We took a penalty early, I think it was five seconds left in the penalty, a bit of a rebound, they were able to knock one in,” he added. “They started to sit back a bit, I was surprised. We tried to adjust to it and really open them up and push the pace. They played a great game in the neutral zone, they shut it down, we hit a crossbar once and even when we pulled the goalie we pushed and pushed and pushed, had some great chances.”
Team members for the U15 Golden Hawks are Jack Andrews, Cole Baird, Jacob Brummell, Keagen Carr, Colby Coe, Elijah Davis, Brock Davy, Carson Down, Ethan Kenney, Ethan Lord, Bryce Mitchell, Charlie Mooney, Brody Pilatzke, Dryden Riley, Nathan Sills, Dexter Slone, Avery Wease and Tate Webb.
“Unbelievable, great group of kids. Character, tight-knit group, fantastic parents,” Belej said. “A couple of them made the comment that this is going to be the last time these 18 kids are going to be in the same dressing room because I think a few perhaps will move on to triple-A, some kids are at that age where school is important, with jobs they may just pack it in, so this is the last time.”
Belej couldn’t be more proud of the team and the Quinte West Minor Hockey Association for a fantastic OHF tournament in Trenton.
“The tournament committee put on a fantastic tournament. They went over and above, they knocked it out of the park,” he remarked. “In the final, dare I say there were probably eight or nine hundred people in the building. It was a great crowd, so the support was unbelievable. It was pretty special to be a part of from a coaching standpoint and I’m sure for the kids.”