It was victory for the Miniota-Elkhorn C-Hawks last week and disappointment for the Rocanville Tigers, as North Central Hockey League and Triangle Hockey League finals finally came to an end.
The C-Hawks and the Grandview Comets battled to a full five games in the NCHL best-of-five final, with the C-Hawks taking the league championship during game five on Saturday, March 29 with a 5-2 victory in Elkhorn. The game was played in front of a packed house as more than 600 people packed the stands in Elkhorn to watch the C-Hawks win the championship.
Things didn’t go as well for the Rocanville Tigers.
After holding a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven THL final series, the
Rocanville Tigers fell to the Esterhazy Flyers 7-4 in Rocanville last Tuesday night, tying the series 3-3. A fast-paced, hard fought battled ensued during game seven the following night in Esterhazy, with the game ending 5-3 for the Flyers, who celebrated the league championship in front of a home crowd of hundreds of people, including many who had travelled from Rocanville to cheer on the Tigers in hopes of seeing them take victory that night.
The C-Hawks are NCHL champions
For their second year in a row, the Miniota-Elkhorn C-Hawks have claimed the North Central Hockey League championship over the Grandview Comets after a hard-fought playoff series that went to a full five games, ending on Saturday, March 29 with a 5-2 victory for the C-Hawks in Elkhorn.
“It was awesome,” says C-Hawks coach Randy McKean. “It’s kind of a blur now.”
The series ended in front of more than 600 fans who packed the Elkhorn arena to watch the two teams battle for the championship, after the best-of-five series ended up tied 2-2 going into the final game.
Both teams proved stronger on their home ice, with the C-Hawks winning on home ice in Elkhorn twice and the Comets winning on home ice in Grandview twice.
McKean says the C-Hawks were lucky game five was played in Elhorn.
“The fifth game was anybody’s game,” says McKean. “We needed to win one up there (in Grandview), and we couldn’t get that done, and we lost both games up there by one goal. We score more goals at home, and we were hoping that would happen again, and thankfully it did.”
Despite winning the final game 5-2, McKean says the game could have belonged to either team.
“It was a tight game. The score was no indication of the game,” he says. “If they had had a few pucks go in early for them, we would have been hard pressed. We would have had to play really well to get them back.”
Grandview is an old nemesis to the C-Hawks, who may have beat them twice in a row the last two seasons, but have fallen to Grandview four times previously in the final.
For that reason, the win on March 29 was a major relief.
“It feels good. I think all the boys are pretty happy,” says McKean.
“It was a big undertaking to beat them twice—it’s nice. The boys played well, that’s all I really can say. We got fortunate—our goaltender played well and pucks went in the net and there were a few shorthanded goals, which made the difference—those were very key goals.”
The game was tied 1-1 after the first period, with Jason Bowles scoring for the C-Hawks. Curtis Gardham scored a shorthanded goal at 13:02 in the second period to give the C-Hawks the lead. Nat Howard scored with 3:14 left on the clock in the second period to make it 3-1 for the C-Hawks heading into the third period.
Gardham scored his second goal of the night on a power play five minutes into the third period to put the score at 4-1, then scored another short-handed goal two minutes later to give him a hat trick.
“It set them back on their heels, you could tell on their faces the second one hurt,” says McKean of the Comets, “so it kind of took their momentum away from them. But they still didn’t quit—they kept coming.”
Despite a powerful lead for the C-Hawks the Comets managed to score at 8:05 of the third to put the score at 5-2, where it stayed for the rest of the game.
McKean says the C-Hawks knew they had to play hard that night.
“It was a pretty quiet dressing room the other night. Everyone was ready to play and tensed up—it was good to see.
“They are the type of guys who knew the series was close, and we snuck by and we are the two-time champs, and they are just happy it went our way.”
It has been a great season for the C-Hawks, who also finished at the top of the NCHL regular season standings.
“We had some more new players, and that gave us a little more depth compared what we had last year, and that makes a big, big difference when you play teams like Grandview—the depth to try to match theirs.
“We were fortunate to get first place in the league this year, because home ice definitely made the difference in final series.”
McKean says so far all indications are that many of the team’s players will be back again next year.
The C-Hawks’ NCHL victory qualifies them for the Hockey Manitoba Senior A Provincials, where they will compete against the top teams in other senior leagues around the province.
Their first game is scheduled against Deloraine on April 11, and will be played in Rivers, Manitoba.
The Senior A Provincials will have two pools with three teams in each side playing a round-robin format. The top two teams from each pool will advance to the semi-finals leading into the championship final set for Saturday, April 19.
Final ends in disappointment for Tigers
The Triangle Hockey League season came to a disappointing end for the Rocanville Tigers last week after losing the THL final to the Esterhazy Flyers in game seven of the series last Wednesday night.
The Tigers were up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series last week, with game six taking place last Tuesday night in Rocanville before hundreds of fans, including fans who had made the trip from Esterhazy to cheer on the Flyers.
The Tigers pushed hard for a hometown championship win, but it wasn’t to be that night. It was a back-and-forth, fast-paced game with few penalties. By the end of the first period, the Flyers held the lead 3-2. Niko Grose tied the game 3-3 for the Tigers at 14:43 in the second period, but the Flyers broke the tie with 3:07 left on the clock.
Grose tied the game for the Tigers again in the third period, but the Flyers managed two swift goals to give them a 6-4 lead heading into the dying minutes of the game. The Tigers pulled their goalie, resulting in an empty net goal for the Flyers with 1:01 left on the clock to end the game 7-4.
With both teams tied 3-3 in the series, game seven took place in Esterhazy on Wednesday. Again, hundreds of fans packed the stands from both towns, to see who would capture the championship.
Tigers coach Trever Goodman says the Tigers decided they needed to capture an early lead if they were going to be victorious against the Flyers.
“They knew it was do or die,” he says. “They all knew what to do.
“We actually did have them down 2-0 at the beginning. That’s what we wanted to do—work on scoring early and keeping the score up—but as the night wore on it changed, and we ran into that penalty there.”
That penalty was a five-minute misconduct in the second period after the Tigers’ Travis Statz hit a player from behind.
Despite the 2-0 lead, the Flyers chipped away at the Tigers in the first period to make it 2-1, then tied it up early in the second period. The Tigers ran into penalty trouble in the second period, resulting in a power play goal at 6:45 for the Flyers to break the tie, followed by a fourth goal for the Flyers with a mere six seconds left to give the Flyers a 4-2 lead.
The Tigers scored a third goal on a power play at 9:52 in the third period to make it 4-3, pummelling the Flyers hard with shots on goal, but the Flyers pushed back with an aggressive offense and hard-working defense, scoring a fifth goal with 4:08 left on the clock. The Tigers pulled their goalie with a minute left in the game, adding to the power play advantage, but were unable to score, and watched the Flyers celebrate the as THL champions at the buzzer.
“I thought she was all ours at the start but as we got going, I wouldn’t say we wore down, but they it came down to a few lucky bounces for them,” says Goodman.
Goodman says the team was disappointed in the loss but realized they’d had a good season.
“They were disappointed, but after a little while we put everything behind us and shook everyone’s hand and congratulated them for the great run they had.”
The Tigers ranked third in regular season play this year. Esterhazy topped the standings in first place. Goodman say the Tigers were shooting to be middle of the pack at the beginning of the season.
“We hoped we’d be in the middle of the pack, but as things went on and we got rolling there, it seemed like we were doing very well.”
The Tigers battled their way through playoffs, defeating the second-place Langenburg Warriors four games to one in the league semifinal, moving on to the final versus Esterhazy, which stretched to a full seven games.
Goodman said he was satisfied last week after game seven of the series.
“I felt good,” he says. “The guys played very well.
“I thought it would be very close. I figured the series was great. We were shooting to win our last game, and it didn’t turn out that way, but overall it was good. They are just a super bunch of fellas.”
Goodmans says the crowd that came out to watch the Tigers in game six in Rocanville was unbelievable.
“That’s probably the biggest crowd I’ve seen in our rink,” he says.
Goodman expects the team to be solid again next year, anticipates there may be a few new, young players who may want to join team. The long-time Tigers coach, who has been with the team for more years than he has kept track of, says he’s unsure if he will be in the coach’s position next year, but says he will definitely still be involved with the team in some way.