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By Terrance Gavan
Ian Bottum broke the ice.
And the Tasmanian Devil – aka “Never Lazy” Mark Vasey – brought the Red Bull to the glass.
Last Thursday Vasey – a deft and soft-handed wielder of the clutch touch – led by example, walked away from some late game chippiness, and demonstrated why he is such an important cog on the big wheel that keeps on turning this Haliburton High Red Hawk hockey team.
Vasey was a triple threat presence – backchecking, forechecking and laser-beaming – scoring thrice in a roll of the dice, sudden death dismembering of the visiting Norwood Knights. Hawks beat the Knights 8-0 in Kawartha quarter final action at the Dysart Barn last Thursday afternoon (Feb 24).
Oh, and in case you were wondering?
That glass of Red Bull is half full.
Cos’ the Haliburton High Red Hawk hockey players are not given to half-empty clichés.
And so today, the coaching staff and the players are citing the superstitious mantra of “cautious optimism” as they motor down the Buckhorn Trail to the Kawartha Final Championships being played at the Kinsmen in Peterborough. First game slated for 12:30 pm (Thursday, March 3). Second game – if they win – will go at 3:30 pm at the same place. Two teams will advance to COSSA from the four team gathering. Thus it’s another case of do or die for the Hawks.
The hat trick from Vasey, coupled with outstanding play from the whole damn team, had Hawks’ Coach Ron Yake sputtering for words in the corridor after the game.
“We were a little nervous at the start of the game,” smiled Yake – finding his stride as he chatted in the cramped corridor in front of a jubilant Hawk dressing room last Thursday afternoon. “We didn’t know what to expect from Norwood, we haven’t played them all year.”
Norwood earned the final playoff berth in Kawartha South Central at 1-9-2 and was rewarded with the dubious right to face-off in a crossover versus the first place North Central Red Hawks.
The Hawks finished their season at 12-0. The Hawks also possess the top three scorers in the Kawartha Hockey League this season.
Brett Yake led the league with 33 points on 9 goals and 24 assists. Bottum was second with 32 points – 16 goals and 16 assists – and Scotty Griffith placed third with 29 points on 14 goals and 15 assists.
Yake says the Hawks prepared for the Knights like they’ve prepared all year.
With a stressing of the fundamentals.
“We just basically said to them what we’ve been saying all year, move the puck and keep the feet moving,” said Yake. “We’ve got some skilled players for a high school team, and when we put a power play out everyone on the bench knows what to do, and they move the puck well; they work well on both the penalty kill and power play. We have a lot of Grade-12 guys who know what they’re doing out there.”
Three tournament wins this season, in Lake Placid, Ottawa, and at the prestigious St. Peter’s Classic in Peterborough forged the steely edge of this very tough, talented and tangential team.
Tangential? Of course. No straight lines here. It’s a club that dominates on the forecheck, through the blueline and right back to the dedicated crease marauders.
We could name a plethora of other dynamic influences, but bottom line, this is a team that has hung around long enough to put together that perfect storm of maturity, speed, durability and smarts.
One of those sturdy and durable forwards is Bottum, who added two goals and an assist.
Bottum is a feisty on ice presence – just like Vasey – and has been known to take umbrage when pressed, but like his teammates, Bottum was singularly resistant to stepping into the fray when Norwood began taking some of their frustrations out with late hits and post scrum acrobatics.
Bottum said that he and every one of the players had been schooled well by coaches, Yake, Bruce Griffith and Gary Brohman, to put team first in the playoffs.
Bottum added that this team is ingrained with some special oomph this season. But he says everyone knows that there’s no room for stupid penalties.
“Every game means a lot right now and everyone’s a little on edge, and wants to win really bad, so you just have to swallow your pride and skate away,” said Bottum in an illuminating post game interview.
Discipline, apparently, a bellwether for this team down the stretch.
Yake was adamant on that point. “We stressed to all the players going in that the games are too short to get into anything,” said Yake. “It’s a one game showdown from here on in so you can’t get forced into any five on three situations. And if you get suspensions into the mix you lose guys for the next game. So they have to play disciplined out there and that’s been our number one goal all season.”
Bottum said that the Hawks got their jump back when he and Brett Yake combined for that all-important first goal – the game winner.
“We were a little nervous and it was nice to get that first goal,” smiled Bottum.
Asked how the team was handling the pressure of this looming Kawartha challenge, Bottum said that nothing has changed from the start of the year. Goals remain. Mindsets are clear… and present.
“Nothing really had to be said (before the game); we just knew that we had to come back and pick up our guy,” explained Bottum. He is confident that every single member of this team is ready for the challenge today in the Pete.
“You don’t want to think too far ahead, but you know it’s there, and we know what we’re playing for,” said Bottum.
A key to this year’s squad is that consistency, across all three lines, strong blueline presence and the tandem of goaltenders Andrew Elia and Zach Harrison. Elia nailed down the win Thursday and Harrison will likely get the call in the first game today.
Griffith scored a goal and three assists, Brett Yake had a goal and two assists, and Keaton Gadway added the other marker. Ashton Hailey chipped in with two assists while Jordan Howe, Chris Judge and Aaron Hillier added single helpers.
Top two teams advance to the Central Ontario (COSSA) four team championship. The winner of the second game today will earn the right to host the COSSA tourney this year. The COSSA is scheduled for the week of March 7 and the Hawks are naturally hoping for a reprise of last year, when they advanced to the AA championships and a berth in the OFSAA tourney.
This year’s provincials are slated for Timmins, but there’s a lotta’ work to do.
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