The Abbotsford bantam Tier 1 Hawks pulled off a major upset at the Lower Mainland Final Four tournament on the weekend, knocking off undefeated Burnaby Winter Club to claim the title.
BWC came into the tournament with a spotless 20-0 record in league play, but the Hawks came up with their strongest performance of the season in a 5-2 win in the regional finale on Sunday in Burnaby.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” Hawks coach Troy Campbell said. “From the opening drop of the puck to the final buzzer, we just out-played them in all three zones.
“All our players played their roles to a T. We had the bangers banging, all the defencemen were strong, goaltending was great, and the goal-scorers did their job and put the puck in the net.”
The Hawks, 15-3-2 in the regular season, were rusty after a week-long break between games and opened the round-robin event with a 5-3 loss to Seafair of Richmond. But they bounced back with a 3-1 win over Cloverdale. After Cloverdale upset Seafair, it meant that Abbotsford’s final game against Burnaby was for all the marbles.
The Hawks couldn’t have asked for a better start, as Jake Virtanen opened the scoring just seven seconds into the first period. Virtanen and Mitchell Skapski scored twice in the win, while Francis Bamford added a single.
The Final Four title gives the Hawks plenty of momentum heading into the provincial Tier 1 bantam championships, which they host March 20-23 at MSA Arena.
“We didn’t just want to go as the host,” Campbell noted. “We wanted to earn our stripes.”
The six-team B.C. tournament features Abbotsford, BWC, Cloverdale, Kamloops, Prince George and Nanaimo. Kamloops, which won prestigious tourney titles in St. Albert and Medicine Hat, Alta., is considered the favourite, with Burnaby and Abbotsford nipping at their heels.
The provincial champ advances to the Western Canadian Championships in Winnipeg, April 7-10. Abbotsford has represented B.C. at Westerns twice, winning in 2006 and finishing second in 2009.
The B.C. tournament is a magnet for scouts, as it offers an opportunity to watch many of the top Western Hockey League draft-eligible bantams in action. The record for Abbotsford players picked in a single WHL talent lottery is eight, set back in 2006, and Campbell said there’s a chance the 2010-11 edition of the Hawks could exceed that number.
“This year, it’s a very strong field at provincials,” Campbell said. “It showcases the best teams in B.C., and all the WHL and B.C. Hockey League scouts will be in the building to watch.”