They’ve only just started practising, and aren’t even scheduled to play their first game until December, but the Fort Frances Thunderhawks already know they’ll be playing on the national stage at season’s end.
T’hawks GM Dean Bruyere confirmed last Wednesday that Hockey Canada has approved the team’s spot in the Allan Cup—Canada’s amateur senior men’s hockey championship.
The event is slated for April 11-16 in Kenora.
The Thunderhawks earned the bye because the Quebec branch is not sending a team to the tournament this year.
So, as in past years with similar situations, Hockey Canada opted to award a second berth to the host branch.
With the Kenora Thistles already in as the host team, and Thunder Bay not participating this year, the Thunderhawks were the only remaining squad in the branch and so automatically were awarded the berth.
The tournament will be rounded out by teams from the Pacific, West, Ontario Hockey Federation (southern Ontario), and Atlantic regions.
The T’hawks will play a series of games in order to prepare for the Allan Cup, beginning Dec. 18 when they host the Thistles at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Coach Randy White, who will helm the team along with Larry Beck, Greg Ross, and Greg Madill, had mixed feelings about the bye but certainly is grateful for the rare opportunity to punch their ticket so early.
“It’s good and bad,” he acknowledged. “You want to earn your way there.
“We’re looking forward to it. All the boys are pretty pumped,” he added.
With the big-time excitement already guaranteed, the biggest challenge for the T’hawks will be to stay focused on the day-to-day tasks of improving.
The squad has a solid base from which to build as several of last year’s members are back, and newcomers like defencemen Josh Meyers and Cody Mosbeck, along with forward Dallas Mosbeck, should provide a boost.
However, White said losing defenceman Clayton Windigo, who died in a swimming mishap this summer, will leave a gap on the back end.
“It’s good for us. We’re going to ice a pretty good team this year,” he enthused. “I think we’re certainly a little deeper up front, and we just want to go down there and do the best we can.
“We just want to do the best we can,” White stressed. “We certainly don’t want to look out of place.
“We’ve got a pretty good squad.”
White felt since Kenora put up a solid showing at the Renwick Cup against the Dundas Real McCoys, and the T’hawks traditionally giving the Thistles a good fight, Fort Frances should be competitive at the Allan Cup.
“Kenora last year was very competitive with them, and us and Kenora were neck-and-neck,” he reasoned.
“I’m sure Kenora’s going to change a few faces there, too, and try to strengthen their team as much as they can.
“I think it’s all good,” he added. “Hopefully, nobody gets injured and we can ice the team we want to ice and we’ll be all right.
“Most of the guys are back from last year, and a few new guys.”
The Thunderhawks have not yet set their roster in stone, however, and still are keeping an eye out for ways to improve their lineup.
“We still have spots open, so hopefully there are going to be a few more players coming in,” White remarked.
“We’re bouncing some names around, some kids from the States and that.”
He added even with the big
carrot at the end of the road, the style of coaching will remain consistent to what players experienced last season.
Since players should be mature enough, and experienced enough, to stay disciplined, the biggest aspect to coaching is to keep everyone on the same page.
“These guys are men, so this is different coaching,” White stressed. “They’re all working and they’re men.
“It’s not like you bag skate them or anything like that.
“They’ve all played the game at a high level and I think everybody pretty much knows that we just don’t want to be embarrassed down there, and I don’t think we will be.
“As far as coaching goes, these guys have all played high level and we’re just there to create a little system for them, and that’s it,” he reasoned.
The biggest challenge in creating a system is that most players have grown up in something a little bit different—something that seems especially divided along national lines.
“Everybody’s played a little bit of a different system,” White explained. “The American system’s a little different from the Canadian system, [which is] more and more dump-and-chase.
“They [the Americans] like to control the puck, so we’re not going to handicap any guy that’s skilled with the puck by making him dump it in,” he noted.
“We’re going to let them have a free rein, hopefully, and be committed to defence. That’s the biggest thing.
“We all have to play defence, so I think that’s the biggest coaching thing that we’ll deal with,” White continued.
“I think the offence will take care of itself.”
As for the tournament itself, White said once a team hits the ice, anything can happen if it starts playing well.
“It’ll be fun. It’ll be a big event for Northwestern Ontario to watch it,” he enthused.
“Hopefully the boys play well and, hey, you never know.
“Your goalies’s hot or you get a couple good bounces,” he remarked.
“If everybody’s on board, then that might be fun.”
White said he hopes the community continues to cheer on the team. And with the Allan Cup so close, hopefully some fans make the trek to Kenora in April.
“Hopefully we get good support and people come out and watch,” he said. “We’re going to try to put a pretty good product on the ice.
“There are a lot of local kids from the whole district—Falls, Fort and the country, and [Couchiching],” he noted.
“I think people will be impressed with how good the boys are. They’re fun to watch.”