Hawks bow to TASS 3-2 ending a season of excellence
By Terrance Gavan
Peterborough – Just before the Kawartha semi-final playoff game at Peterborough’s Kinsmen Arena last Thursday I managed to have a little chat with Hal High coach Ron Yake.
It was just one of those obscure back corridor meet and greets.
I said “good luck.” And I cursed under my breath, remembering that I would have been booted from a theater on opening night for such heresy.
In hindsight – Hawks lost 3-2 to Thomas A Stewart Griffins in an exciting semi-final on March 3 – I probably should have said “break a leg.”
I also mentioned to Yake, in passing, that his Hawks had dominated against Thomas A Stewart Secondary in three regular season tilts – winning 7-4 Dec. 3, 6-1 on Feb. 7 and 6-2 on Feb. 10.
Yake, always thoughtful and acute, just laughed and reminded me gently that the regular season was over.
This was sudden death.
And, then he said something interesting.
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“This is their home,” he said nodding toward the ice surface at the Kinsmen.
The ice surface, with the very small neutral zone, has always befuddled the freewheeling Hawks.
Yake looked out as the Zamboni was preparing the surface, and nodded at the blue lines, which are situated lamentably close to the red line at the Kinsmen arena twin pads.
At the time it seemed like an innocuous comment.
But the Hawks, who had dominated the Kawartha League all season long – they compiled a 12-0 record to Tom Stewart’s 7-5 tote – did not find the back of the net until the third period.
They went into the final frame trailing the Griffins 3-0.
Mark Vasey popped a laser from the right point on a five on three power play with 10:49 remaining in the third.
Just a minute later Jordan Howe connected on the five on four to make the score 3-2.
The remaining nine minutes were excruciating for the Hawks and the cadre of loyal fans who had made the trek from Haliburton.
The storybook ending never materialized.
The Hawks dipped deep into that menagerie of reserve and composure that had sustained them on this record-setting regular season.
But they came up against a well-schooled team, who were outgunned but stoic in the face of a withering flurry, including a final 1:30 played without a goalie in the Red Hawk crease.
Zach Harrison started in net for the Hawks, but was replaced early in the first frame by Andrew Elia after the Griffins popped for a pair of goals in their first three shots.
The first came on an odd man rush and the second from a cross ice clearing pass that was gobbled up by a determined TASS fore-checking unit.
Elia came in right after that second goal and played well, giving up his only goal on another second period cross ice head man pass that went awry.
Hawks were down 2-0 after one and 3-0 after two.
It was an interesting tilt.
Hawks completely dominated the play, but on this afternoon, those pinpoint neutral zone dashes seemed to fall just short of their intended target.
That short neutral zone definitely hamstringed the Hawks.
“It (tight blue lines) changes the game and and I’ve never had a team that played their best in that rink,” said Yake on Monday evening. “I knew the rink would create some challenges just because of the blue lines.”
And when the Hawks pressed – and they did press – events and decisions beyond their control stepped in to neutralize their advantage.
Hawks had a first period goal by Brett Yake called back. “They called it a kicking motion, and I think there was movement of the skate,” said Yake. “The nice thing on that one was that the referees called it right away.”
An Ian Bottum goal in the second period was called back because the referees said the whistle had blown just prior to the puck crossing the line. Unfortunately, the refs did not have the acuity of a press box view, which clearly showed that the puck was in sight for the duration of the play.
Bottum shoved the loose puck past a kneeling goaltender at the left side of the crease. The refs lost sight of the biscuit. No goal.
Either one of those goal erasures would have made the difference.
And of course Hawks also hit a post and a crossbar, and the TASS netminder had two saves that came off the butt end of his goalie stick.
And in a way, those two butt ended saves summed up the game.
Pucks, bounces, errant passes, quicksand neutral zone, and… the tangential x-factor.
A goalie that literally stood on his head and utilized every part of his equipment.
There was also that delicate defensive strategy that allowed the Griffins to sit on a 3-0 lead and eke out a win, in spite of being out-shot by a wide margin.
To be fair, TASS was well-schooled. They unveiled a nifty little defensive trick that entailed flipping pucks high in the air to clear their zones, instead of attempting to skate out against the speedy Hawks.
The strategy was effective, neutralizing the hard-charging Hawk fore-checkers, without risking icing calls.
Yake said that it was just one of those games.
Hard to predict and harder to dissect.
But Yake, who coached all season with assistants Bruce Griffith and Gary Brohman, has always been thoughtful and precise in his post game analysis and he was succinct again this week.
“They (TASS) did work hard and they played well,” said Yake. “They were working on making sure the puck got out and safe. But they didn’t put much pressure on us at all; aside from those two early goals.”
He said that the mistakes hurt them early, but in the end it wasn’t the ultimate cause of the Hawks’ demise.
“There were some miscues, but bottom line, we couldn’t put the puck in the net,” said Yake. “It was disappointing that it ended that way; we had a great season; we were the favorites, and they were the underdogs, but they worked hard and they didn’t take any penalties early.”
Indeed that double power play situation in the third was the first power play opportunity accorded to the Hawks all night.
The fact that they scored on both ends of that opportunity put the Hawks right back in the game.
They came a few clangs and a butt-ended stop away from tying the game.
“We had the chances to score three goals, but it just wasn’t our day,” said Yake. “If you play enough games you’re bound to lose one or two. We just picked the wrong time to lose one.
“Everyone’s disappointed, but reflecting back, it was a remarkable season. We played some tourney games (Hawks won tournaments in Ottawa, Lake Placid and the St. Peter’s Classic) that were great hockey games.”
Still and all, this was a great season, and no one on this superbly schooled team should be having second thoughts or replaying a sequence in that neuron loop.
“It’s just a super group of guys,” smiled Yake. “They were dedicated and we had very good chemistry.
“They had their sights set on going further.”
But of course that’s not what sport’s all about.
Sometimes there are greater life lessons to be taken from the losses; and how we handle the ambivalence of fickle fates.
Because life ain’t always fair.
And sports, the great leveler.
Can also act as teacher, mentor and template.
An old coach of mine once said.
“Yeah, go ahead and cry… and then get over yourself.
“This isn’t easy… but it’ll help you down the road.”
Damn I hated that guy. But he was right.
Great season for a deft and dextrous group of guys.
Get Gav at email@example.com or twitter me at twitter.com/terrancegavan.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]