After a hard fought three days of hockey in the 2023 Wayne Gretzky International Tournament, the U11 A/AA Cambridge Hawks bring home a medal with their 2nd place finish.
To kick off the 2023 Wayne Gretzky International Tournament in Brantford, the U11 A/AA Cambridge Hawks would see themselves facing the host team, the Brantford 99ers, a squad the boys had previously squared off with 3 times earlier in the season, with each game ending in a loss. But the December 28th matchup would result in a new outcome.
Arlo MacDonald opened the scoring for the Hawks in the 1st period after a rush from his defensive zone culminated with a sniped top corner wrister from the top of the circle. Another goal was added by the Hawks in the 2nd period when Ezra Penney wrangled a loose puck deflection off the back boards that came from a Jacob Pimentel bomb from the point. Rylan Prilisauer then closed out the Hawks’ scoring and added a bit of insurance to the Hawks' lead that ultimately set the final score of 3-0.
And while the third period may not have had any scoring, it was not without drama as the strong play of Connor Bithell continued in his bid to hold his shutout performance and did so by closing the door shot after shot. That shutout was not without help, as the Hawks’ strong defensive team play held firm for the final frame including their effective killing off of two huge powerplays by the surging 99ers.
MVP and Player of the Game honors were awarded to Connor Bithell.
Game two of the tournament had the Hawks facing off in an early evening tilt against the Heartland Dragons. Munro Halliday scored first for the Hawks less then two minutes into the opening frame, only to be answered by the Dragons when they tied it up just 35 seconds later after Kieran Patel's leg save just got a piece of the blast from the top of the circle. However, that would be the last biscuit allowed past the young netminder as he closed the door for the rest of the game. In the final minute of the first period, Hudson Smith streaked in the zone after a Jaxon Potter pass and tickled the twine with what would be the eventual game winner and closed out the period with a 2-1 lead.
Solid back and forth play followed in the 2nd period until undisciplined plays by two of the young Dragons led to a 5 on 3 opportunity which the Hawks capitalized on when Henry Greig dug a puck out of the corner, passed to Ezra Penney, who then fed Jacob Pimentel to unleash a rocket from the point that beat the goalie's glove hand. With goal differential in mind, the Hawks continued to press hard in the 3rd period and were rewarded with another 3 goals as Halliday collected his 2nd of the game after some masterful puck movement from Caiden Rose and Lincoln Hartwell. Then Lincoln Hartwell's continued tenacious play, had him pot the Hawks' final two tallies that saw the Hawks slay the Dragons with a 6-1 win.
MVP selection was Lincoln Hartwell and Player of the Game went to Munro Halliday.
Day 2 of the tourney started early with an 8:30am puck drop against the Milton Winterhawks. The pace of the game accelerated quickly despite the early hours, and Milton would get on the board first after a broken up powerplay in the offensive zone led to an odd man rush that resulted in the Winterhawks taking a 1-0 lead. Tight checking and trading of chances went on in the middle frame, but was highlighted with a Lucas Baxter shot getting the Hawks on the board after converting a Micah Holmes' tape to tape pass.
1-1 hockey game.
The 60 second 2nd intermission pep talk by the Hawks Head Coach Jim O'Brien, Assistant Coaches Taylor Prilisauer & Tom Leslie, and Trainer James O'Brien was just what the boys needed as 44 seconds into the final period, Lincoln Hartwell buried a shot past the Winterhawks goalie after corralling a Munro Halliday pass and secured the Hawks lead which they would not relinquish for the rest of the game. The Hawks would go on to score another goal, however the referee's position on the ice failed him as he could not see the loose puck and blew the play dead despite Halliday burying the rebound off of Hartwell’s shot from the right faceoff dot.
11 minutes passed in the 3rd until Nicholas Leslie secured what would go on to be the game winner.
The Winterhawks late surge with their goalie pulled would result in one more goal, but the late push was not enough, as the Hawks went talon to talon with the Winterhawks and came out victorious with the 3-2 win.
MVP selection was Arlo MacDonald and Player of the Game went to Hudson Smith.
The Hawks closed out the round robin play going 3-0 and a goal differential of +9 as they secured themselves the 1st overall position and a rematch with the Heartland Dragons in the playoffs.
The playoff rematch with the Dragons saw the Hawks on their heals to start the first, but Patel kept the door closed until a grinding play by Nicholas Leslie freed a puck and his pass allowed Micah Holmes to open the scoring for the Hawks midway through the 1st. The 2nd period scoring was then kicked off less than two minutes in with a beauty by Penney, but was quickly answered by the Dragons to bring them within 1, however that’s the closest they would get as 15 seconds later, Halliday reacquired the Hawks 2 goal lead. The period would then close shortly after one more goal on the power play after Carter Lecki's slapshot blew past the sprawling Dragon’s netminder.
The 2nd intermission pep talk must have included a reminder not to let their opponent back in the game as the Hawks continued with their pressure and added 5 more goals in the final period with tallies by Grieg, Smith, MacDonald, as well as 2 by Halliday to secure the first hat trick by the team this season. With the commanding 9-1 win secured, the Hawks punched their ticket to the finals where they would once again faceoff with the host team, the Brantford 99ers.
MVP selection was Munro Halliday and Player of the Game went to Lucas Baxter.
Saturday morning had the Hawks heading into the championship final with a 4-0 record and an impressive goals against average of a paltry 0.75, however under the bright lights of the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre #1 pad, their hard fought battle would culminate with a 2nd place finish.
The final game started with 5 minutes of back and forth play before the 99ers strong effort resulted in two quick goals which meant the Hawks would have to claw from behind. Hartwell was able to cut the lead by 1 after collecting a loose puck and burying a goal, beating the tender blocker side while on the powerplay. The 1st period then closed with a score of 1-2.
Two minutes into the 2nd period, a rough play by the 99ers had them penalized for head contact and an opportunity for the Hawks, however an intercepted pass on the ensuing powerplay resulted in a shorthanded breakaway which the 99er's forward was able to capitalize on and regain their 2 goal lead.
Still on the powerplay and not prepared to give up, Jaxon Potter was able to channel some Bobby Orr-esque mojo and pulled a spin-o-rama at the blueline on a charging forward, then continued to skate in from the point and bury a wrister. But sadly, that is the closest the Hawks would get as the 99ers maintained pressure for the rest of game. The Hawks didn’t show any signs of quitting and they continued to take their chances to battle back from behind, but the result was a tough 6-2 loss.
MVP selection was Micah Holmes and Player of the Game went to Jaxon Potter.
While it’s not the result these 2013 born Hawks wanted to leave the rink with on Saturday, the hard-fought 2nd place finish is one they’re extremely proud of and the Hawks’ head of social media, Alison, articulated it perfectly when she wrote “These 16 kids, pulled together as a team. They found power in passing and saw the greatest success of their season so far. This tournament was a turning point in their season, we can all feel it. Congrats boys. Hold your heads high. You WON 2nd! 🥈”