As the weather begins to warm up a start of another Premier season can’t be far behind. This past weekend six of the top ball hockey clubs in Ontario participated in the annual Preseason Tournament. The tournament is a warm up for the summer Premier season which will feature the eight best teams in the province. The Barrie Flyers, Brampton Express, Metro Orangemen, Mississauga Hawks, North York Hitmen and Toronto Thunder participated in the tourney and will be joined by the Vaughan Red Wings and Vaughan Sharks when the season begins May 4 in Barrie.
Both the Express and Hawks had not lined up as a squad since last summer as the two veteran teams took the Fall season off to rest and recuperate. The Express would open versus the Hitmen. A spectacular goaltending performance from Hitmen goaltender Dave Clark and a timely PP goal from the Hitmen resulted in a 1-0 Hitmen victory. The Orangemen and Flyers were next to take the floor and the Orangemen were firing on all cylinders. The final read 6-2 Omen as Gary Costa, Glen Bradbury, Jeff Gallant and Sergio Vidal were among the scorers for the Orangemen on opening night. The night cap saw the Hawks and old rival Thunder face off. The Hawks shaking off the rust were beaten 4-2 by the Thunder as sniper Jeff Wilson, Mass Principe and Paul Duarte all light the lamp.
In the Saturday morning session the Hitmen and Orangemen were on the docket. Another game and another shutout for Dave Clark as he slams the door on the Orangemen and the offence does the rest in a 2-0 victory keeping the young Hitmen undefeated and evening the Omen’s record at 1-1.The Thunder and Express were next. The Thunder with a tie could move onto the next round. Well they did more than that. They would find the net three times behind David DiGironimo in the Express goal. The Express would pull a late marker back and the final would be 3-1 Thunder. The Hawks and Flyers would conclude the morning portion of the schedule and the Flyers jumped all over the rusty Hawks with a 4-0 victory. Both the Hitmen and Thunder held 2-0 records heading into the final round robin games.
The Flyers and the Express opened the final round of games with a victory ensuring the Flyers a spot in the final four. A Randy Kelly marker and stellar goaltending from Matt Stuart was enough to advance the Flyers and eliminate the defending Preseason Tournament Champion Express, make the final 3-1 Flyers. The Hawks and Orangemen faced off with the winner advancing from Group B. The Hawks needed to win the game and they rode the stellar goaltending of Paul Zarnett as he shut out the Orangemen by the score of 2-0. With that result both the Orangemen and Express had been eliminated from the tournament, who would have bet on that happening? The final round robin game faced the Thunder and Hitmen battling for top spot in Group A. The Thunder held a 3-2 lead late on a Shane Terry slapper from the point. In the dying minutes the Hitmen were afforded a power play and rookie Andrew Lucia batted in a rebound to draw his club level. The game would end in a 3-3 draw with the Hitmen taking top spot in Group A by mere percentage points over the Thunder. The semi-finals would pit the Thunder versus the Flyers and the Hitmen versus the Hawks.
This next game was the best game to date. With the confidence gained from their victory over the Orangemen the Hawks were ready to run on Sunday morning. A short-handed penalty shot goal from JK Gill gave the Hawks the first lead of the game. The Hitmen would draw level at 1-1 and would gain the lead 2-1 with four minutes left in regulation. JK Gill once again found the back of the Hitmen goal drawing the Hawks level at 2-2. An extra period would be needed to decide a winner. The teams would battle through 8:30 seconds of the ten minute extra frame before a centering pass from behind the Hawks goal found a wide open Peter Bello and he made no mistake firing a quick shot behind Zarnett and the Hitmen had punched their ticket to the finals.
In semi-final number two the Thunder looked to keep their winning ways intact. In addition to Wilson, Principe, Monaghan and Duarte the newest member of the Thunder lineup made his debut2012 Rookie of the Year Andrew Howes was present and in uniform. Thanks to the goaltending of Andrew “Chevy” Platt and a highlight reel goal from Howes the Thunder cruised to a 4-0 victory ousting the Flyers and creating a rematch from the last round robin game where the teams tied 3-3.
The Finals would be more of the same. The teams were battling for every inch of floor. The Thunder would draw first blood taking an early 1-0 lead. Not to be outdone the Hitmen respond and tie the game 1-1. Regulation would end in a draw and for the second time in two games the Hitmen would need and extra frame. Who would be the hero? It took less than four minutes for someone to step up and end the game leading their team to victory. The hero on this day was Carlos Arce the Hitmen’s defender whose shot finds a hole through Platt and earns the Hitmen a 2-1 OT victory.
If the teams are in Preseason shape can you imagine how exciting the games will be once the regular season begins? I would like to thank all the teams that participated and special congratulations to the North York Hitmen on the 2014 Preseason Tournament Championship. Good luck on the upcoming season.