Northern Hawks capture 6th straight title


The Northern Hawks’ offensive explosion came a bit later than expected, but come it did, and with it, another Thunder Bay junior B hockey league title.
Three goals in a span of 1:10 early in the second period proved to create enough breathing room for the Hawks as they defeated the Thunder Bay Stars 4-2 on Thursday night to clinch their fifth consecutive championship, winning the best-of-seven series in five games.
“Especially coming out down a goal after the first (period), we wanted to set the tone and wanted to win that period,” said Hawks assistant captain Justin Affleck, who led the playoff scoring race with 12 goals and 12 assists in just nine games.
Affleck scored a goal and an assist Thursday, while rookie John Anttonen, with two, and Dan Flewelling also tallied for the Hawks, who now advance to the Keystone Cup Western Canadian championship, April 17-21 in Abbotsford, B.C.
“The guys are excited for that opportunity . . . to compete against those kinds of teams, those kinds of talent out west,” said first-year Hawks head coach Josh Gribben.
Stars forward Tyler Fontana opened the scoring 11:56 into the first period, speeding up the middle to beat goaltender Kim Wildhaber. Wildhaber’s counterpart, Neill Kelley, held the Hawks off with nine first-period saves.
Affleck got the Hawks on the board at 2:58 of the second, ripping home a shot while shorthanded.
Less than a minute later, Affleck stole the puck at the blueline and fed Anttonen for the go-ahead goal.
Another 16 seconds passed before Joe Sgambelluri slid the puck to a cutting Flewelling for the third tally.
The goal chased Kelley to the bench in favour of Dalton Demerah.
“We got really fortunate with some bounces,” Gribben said. “Throughout the season and throughout games, you’re always going to have those spurts. It’s whether you capitalize on them or not. Three goals in a short period turned this game around for us.”
Anttonen pushed the advantage to 4-1 before Tyler Paul of the Stars scored from the slot to cut into the Hawks’ lead before the second intermission.
The Stars were held scoreless in the final period.
“(The Stars) were getting stronger as the season went on,” said Anttonen, who won a city midget AA title last year with the Fort William Canadiens. “We knew it was going to be a tough series. They put up a good fight.”
Affleck’s line of Anttonen and Josh Reid combined for an impressive 55 points in nine playoff games.
“Everything we touched just went in the net,” Affleck said. “We couldn’t ask for better timing than that.”
The Hawks’ fifth-straight title win is a new league record.
The history of the local loop has been decorated by dynasties. Prior to this run, the K&A Wolverines had reeled off four consecutive titles (2006-09).
The Hawks, the Westfort Maroons, the Fort William Hurricanes and the Northwestern Wildcats have also strung at least back-to-back championships together in the league’s 20 years of existence.