The 2022-23 season has
come to an end for the U-11 North Central Predators (NCP), after bringing fierce
competition to the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) championship in
Oakville, last weekend.
Entering the championship weekend with confidence after a strong ETA playoff run, the team was matched up against some of the top contenders in their league and the SCTA. On Friday March 24, NCP faced the York Simcoe Express. York Simcoe took the lead in the first period with a penalty shot goal. In the second period, goals were scored by NCP’s Jaxon Norris (assisted by Finn Armatage and Henry Whelan) and Whelan (assisted by Hudson Besseau). York Simcoe netted two more goals in the second period to win the game 3-2. Whelan was awarded NCP player of the game (chosen by the opposing team’s bench staff). He said “It was nice to be noticed during such an important game. We battled hard and the game could have gone either way.”
On Saturday March 25, NCP played an intense back and forth game against the Niagara North Stars. NCP’s Logan Kirk scored the game winning goal (assisted by Wylie Ladouceur) late in the third period to clinch a 5-4 win. NCP goals were also scored by Norris (2), Whelan and Ladouceur. Assists were credited to Brody Trott (2), Trent Willison, Jack Schryer and Kirk. Goaltender Dominic Lupo was named NCP player of the game. “It felt super good to get that recognition,” said Lupo. “Beating Niagara was a huge accomplishment for our team.”
Head Coach Tobias Whelan said the game was a “grind”. “In the end we stuck to the plan and got a win,” he said. Describing the scene in the dressing room after the game, he said “There were 17 kids bouncing around in the middle of the room singing their ‘win song’ Barbie Girl in unison. The tournament photographer said he had never seen anything like it. To me that sums up the weekend and the season. I couldn’t be more proud as a coach.”
Later on Saturday, NCP played the Oakville Rangers for the first place spot in their pool and a ticket to semi-finals. That game went Oakville’s way and NCP was sent home after a 6-0 loss. Drew Reed was named NCP player of the game for his all around effort to turn the game around.
Despite the loss, Barbie Girl could be heard blasting through the arena as the team celebrated a successful season. “Our playoff goal was to get five wins to get to the OMHAs, so we took the same approach heading into the weekend – ‘two wins and we play on Sunday’, was our message and goal. Unfortunately, Oakville is a very strong team and we came up short. We had a long chat after the game about the year and about the weekend, and in the end I’m sure some people would have thought we won based on the way we celebrated,” said Whelan.
The bench staff said the foundation of the team was built on hard work and a team mentality. “When we started the season, we had kids from eight different hockey organizations, ranging from local league, BB, AA and AAA. Seeing this team improve month-over-month and for them to buy what we were selling was just incredible to be a part of,” said Assistant Coach Pat Armatage. “We challenged the team at the beginning of playoffs with terms like ‘Team First’, ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Blue Lines’, ‘13 Minutes’ and ‘To Believe’. The players learned what each of these terms meant and they became a part of our identity as we drove down the road to the OMHA tournament.”
On closing the season out at the OMHA championship weekend, Assistant Coach Chad Thompson said, “Heading into the OMHAs was a big deal for us. A lot of people counted us out but after overcoming the initial nerves of the big stage, we proved to everyone that we deserved a spot at the head table. It’s been an absolute pleasure watching this group come together as teammates and friends and accomplish what they did. It’s a special feeling."