Tweed Hawks U18 team celebrates OMHA championship victory

This story will be published in the Spring 2023 issue of Total Sports Quinte magazine

For the Tweed Hawks U18 team, it was more than just winning an Ontario Minor Hockey Association championship.

Perhaps greater was the example of lessons hockey, and all sports, can provide along the way and the opportunity coaches have to play a positive role in the life of a youth on and off the ice.

“Our coaching was definitely our reason for getting there – we couldn’t have done it without our coaching for sure,” said Hawks’ player Sam Gale, who scored the overtime winner to clinch the OMHA U18 Tier 3 victory. “We’re different people from what we were at the start of the year and I can say that with confidence because we now truly even in real life can say that we have a different mindset towards things that we want in life and we can say that we were able to dedicate ourselves and really give it our all. I just give the credit to our coaches for being able to push us that far.”

Tweed went undefeated in five games at the OMHA’s U18 Tier 3 Championship Weekend April 7-9 in Windsor. In round-robin play, the Hawks defeated Elmvale Coyotes 3-1, Hanover Falcons 8-2 and West Lorne Comets 6-1.

The most lopsided Silver Stick victory for Tweed, though, came in the semifinals as they handed the Delhi Rockets an 11-0 drubbing.

“We went into that tournament, we knew what we had to do and we were steamrolling,” Gale said. “We knew we were going to be on track for a good outcome and that semifinals game was just kind of unreal to us that we did that.”

Gale suggests there were nerves on both sides in the OMHA championship final against the TCDMHA Rebels from the Township of Chatworth and District organization in the Owen Sound area. The Rebels had played in a number of close contests throughout the tournament before needing extra time against Tweed in the final.

“I think both teams were a bit nervous because they saw we beat the last team by quite a bit but either way we both put up such a great fight and it was such a nail-biter game for us all,” Gale said.

With the teams tied at the end of regulation time, Gale scored just over a minute into overtime to give Tweed a 4-3 victory and the OMHA championship.

“It’s kind of one of those things you never really think you’re going to be able to accomplish in your life,” Gale said of scoring a championship-clinching goal in overtime. “I saw the left corner wide open so I took the shot and there it was. It could’ve been any of us on the team. It was really just a moment of all that hard work and dedication the whole team had put in. It just all paid off in that moment right there.”

Tweed U18 Hawks team members are goaltenders Ryan Grove and Tucker McKichan along with captain Niilo Ahola, assistant captains Eli Prance, Hayden Blackburn and Chaz Cassidy as well as Cameron Hunt, Luke Walker, Drew Lessard, Jack Shalton, Owen Whyte, Jeremy Hunt, Jacob Heard, Felix Sterner, Wyatt Daisley, Chris Brown, Ayden Else, Reid Whalen and Gale.

“This specific group has gone through quite a lot together. At the start of the season we were a bit up-and-down, we weren’t very consistent. We had taken the season along, winning some games we should have, losing some games we shouldn’t have but it really just came down to dedication and listening to what our coaches had to say to us,” Gale said. “In practices we were adding some skating drills and just fine-tuning all the things that we needed improvement on, but definitely the biggest thing was being able to take what our coaches had to say to us and being able to perfect it out on the ice and in games.”

Gale said head coach Paddy Cassidy deserves full credit with pushing the players to realize their full potential this season.

“He led us there, he was the one who pushed us, he changed all of our mindsets 100 per cent from not thinking that we were 100 per cent going to be winning OMHA’s to him really putting it into our heads that we need to dedicate ourselves and really work for it if we want to get something and that’s what we did,” Gale said, also thanking the rest of the staff includes assistant coaches Cory Brown, Dave Prance, trainers Andy Hunt and Jake Gunning and manager Mike Else.

“They were all pushing us just to be the best we can be.”

Upon returning home, a parade was held in Tweed as Hawks supporters turned out to celebrate the OMHA champs

“That was amazing. The whole community was out there cheering for us,” Gale said. It was a surreal moment really. It was just a moment of happiness. We all got to go around and celebrate, just have that moment with the whole town really. It was just a great experience.”