When one plays like a champion, the results speak for themselves.
It was a double-gold weekend for two of the four Fort Frances Canadians ‘AA’ teams competing at the season-ending “Tournament of Champions” hosted by the Thunder Bay Minor Hockey Association.
Jacob Grinsell’s goal at 1:26 of the third period lifted Fort Frances to a 2-1 triumph over the Dryden Paper Kings in the Bantam final.
Reed Bodnar had the other marker for the Canadians while Darian Klem stopped 14-of-15 shots to earn the win between the pipes.
The Canadians won their last five in a row after losing 8-4 to the South End Rangers to open the tournament.
Grinsell scored twice in the opener, with Braden Bodnarchuk and Carson Noga adding singles.
Jaden Cooper made nine saves in taking the loss.
Fort Frances then blanked the North End Flames 7-0 in its second outing.
Bodnarchuk scored twice in that one, with Bodnar, Jacob Albright, Connor Nelson, Kaleb Bruyere, and Grinsell adding singles.
Albright broke a 2-2 tie with his third-period marker to give the Canadians a 3-2 victory over the Neebing Hawks.
Bruyere and Ashton Cousineau had the other goals while Klem turned aside 16 shots.
The Canadians then routed the Thunder Bay Beavers 8-0 to close out preliminary-round play.
Albright led the way with a hat trick while Bodnarchuk and Bodnar each netted a pair of goals.
Bruyere also scored to back up Klem’s 10-save shutout.
The Canadians avenged their lone setback by dumping the Rangers 7-4 in the semi-finals.
Albright notched his second-straight hat trick while Noga scored on a penalty shot.
Bruyere, Grinsell, and Cole Magill added the other goals, with Cooper making 19 saves for the win.
The PeeWee ‘AA’ Canadians also came away with gold in Thunder Bay, although their route was a little more of a cliffhanger with two overtime wins thrown into the mix.
In the final, Nolan Mann netted two goals in a 12-second span of the third period to give Fort Frances a 3-2 win over the Westfort Rangers.
Mann also assisted on Brandon Croswell’s first-period marker while Ethan Rose made 23 saves against the Rangers, who were the only team to beat the Canadians during the preliminary round.
One of the overtime wins came in the Canadians’ first game as Trent Hunter tallied in the extra session for a 4-3 triumph over the Westfort Maroons.
Croswell, Landon Lowes, and Josh Ward also scored while Ethan Lengyel earned the win between the pipes.
The Canadians made things much easier on themselves in a 6-0 whitewashing of the Thunder Bay Elks 82s.
Tristin Yerxa tallied twice in that one while Croswell, Lowes, Nolan Mann, and Noah McPherson added to go along with Rose’s 12-save shutout.
Westfort then edged Fort Frances 3-2, scoring three times in the second period to erase a 2-0 Canadians’ lead built on goals by Yerxa and Mann.
Lengyel finished with eight saves.
In another overtime battle, Emerson Evans netted the game-winner in a 5-4 victory over the Neebing Hawks.
McPherson tallied twice, with Mann and Evan Kabel also hitting the scoresheet, while Rose earned the win in goal.
Yerxa then lit the lamp twice in a 6-3 semi-final victory over the Nipigon Elks.
Mann, Evans, McPherson, and Croswell also scored while Lengyel turned aside 20 shots.
The Atom ‘AA’ Canadians was the third Fort Frances team to qualify for their respective final but were unable to make it three golds after falling 2-0 to the West End Bruins.
The game was scoreless until the third period when Mitchell Vanderwey was set up by Matthew Lysak 22 seconds into the frame, with the two then switching roles on Lysak’s marker at 4:24.
Brayton Levesque had 17 saves for the Canadians, who had won five-straight games leading up to the final, including a 4-2 doubling of the Thunder Bay KC Sabres in their tourney opener.
Teagan Wrolstad bulged the twine twice while Jack Davis and Jordan Hunter had one goal apiece.
Bo Gartzke racked up three assists, with Levesque getting the win in goal.
The Fort then beat the Neebing Hawks 5-1 as Wrolstad, Gartzke, Ashton Veldhuisen, Davis, and Royce Allan all scored.
Then it took Wrolstad’s shootout winner to seal a 3-2 win over the Thunder Bay Elks 82s.
Ashton Armstrong and Veldhuisen also tallied for the Canadians, who then edged the NorWest Stars 2-1.
Gartzke had the go-ahead goal in the third, with Wrolstad notching the other one.
Neebing looked to be in control of the semi-final rematch, scoring twice in the first 3:13 to lead 2-0.
But the Canadians refused to throw in the towel, getting goals from Allan and Wrolstad just over five minutes apart in the third to tie things up.
That left Klyde Laplante to be the star of overtime with his goal 2:13 into the extra frame for a 3-2 triumph.
Levesque finished with 13 saves.
The only local team to struggle in Thunder Bay was the Midget ‘AA’ Canadians, who were thrown together in the last couple of months after there hadn’t been a team to start the season due to the lack of a head coach.
Without the full season of preparation behind them, it was like facing giants for the Midgets, who went 0-4 while being outscored 25-7.
The Canadians opened with a 6-2 loss to the West End Bruins, with Daymond Morrisseau and Dakota Medicine scoring for the locals and Jesse Quesnel making 29 saves.
Quesnel had another 24 saves in his second game but got no offensive support in a 6-0 loss to the Current River Comets.
The Fort William Canadiens then laid a 7-1 licking on Fort Frances, with Morrisseau accounting for the lone goal.
Then the Fort William Hurricanes, blew past the Canadians 6-4 in their final game.
Kieran Weir, Morrisseau, Kyle Walton, and Christian Audette tallied in a losing cause.
More titles will be on the line for local teams and players in a collection of best-of-three series this weekend as part of the 2017 Hockey Northwestern Ontario ‘AAA’ branch championships.
The Bantam ‘AA’ Canadians will step up a notch as the West Region reps to battle the Thunder Bay Kings (Central Region) for the Bantam ‘AAA’ title in Thunder Bay.
Thunder Bay has won all three previous meetings this season by close scores heading into Game 1 on Friday, with Game 2 and Game 3 (if necessary) set for Saturday.
The winner moves on to the 2017 All-Ontario Bantam championship March 27-31 in Thunder Bay.
The same schedule is in place for the NWO Stars PeeWee ‘AAA’ squad, which also will play the Thunder Bay Kings for the right to advance to the All-Ontario PeeWee ‘AAA’ championship April 3-7 in Toronto.
The Stars–made up of players from Fort Frances, Kenora, Dryden, and Couchenour–lost two previous games this season to the Kings.
Meanwhile, Ian Tookenay, Jake Clendenning, and Colton Bodnar of Fort Frances, along with Emo native Sully Shortreed, will try to help extend the season for the Kenora Thistles Midget ‘AAA’ team.
The Thistles did not qualify for the Manitoba Midget ‘AAA’ Hockey League playoffs after finishing 10th out of 12 teams with a 15-24-2-3 record.
However, they have a shot at redemption this weekend when Kenora hosts the Thunder Bay Kings, with Game 1 on Friday, Game 2 on Saturday, and Game 3 (if necessary) on Sunday.
The last team standing will represent HNO at the TELUS Cup West Regional from March 30-April 2 in Steinbach, Man.