ATHABASCA – The Athabasca U18 Hawks are wiping the slate clean and will look to avenge a league playoff loss to Edson when they host the Alberta U18 Tier 2 Hockey Provincial Championships this coming weekend.
Alberta’s eight best teams will converge on the Athabasca Regional Multiplex, March 30 to April 2, for the 15-game tournament — Athabasca will be in pool A and competing against three other teams in the round robin and will need to finish Top 2 to qualify for the playoffs Sunday. The Hawks face off with against La Crete March 30, at 7:45 p.m. then take on Beaumont, March 31 at 2:45 p.m., and finish against St. Paul at 1:30 p.m., April 1.
“We’re very excited. What we’re most excited about is the community, how much they got behind it. It’s been absolutely amazing how much our small community has stepped up to really support this endeavor,” said coach Brad Sakowich in a March 23 interview.
The Hawks are coming off a great season in the Northern Alberta Interlock Tier 2-3 League where they finished 12-3-5, good enough for second in the league. They opened the playoffs with a two-game series victory over the Westlock Warriors and won Game 1 4-3, before shutting out the Warriors 3-0 in Game 2. They then played a nailbiter against Edson in the final, taking the first game 5-4, before losing the second 5-3, which added up to a 10-9 aggregate defeat.
And despite the heartbreaking loss to Edson, Sakowich said the boys have shown tremendous poise and growth over the year and pointed to the fact that they collectively only spent 216 minutes in the penalty box, which is 89 minutes less than the next-closest team.
“We really played with the group, making them understand what the sport is about,” he said “Wins and losses are important, but growing as individuals is (what we focused on).”
Besides Edson, who are in the other pool, it’ll be a fresh slate for the boys against the other teams; the Hawks played La Crete in a tourney last season, with Sakowich saying they were “a solid, strong side, we’re looking forward to seeing them.”
The Hawks carried 18 skaters and one goalie during the year and heading into provincials one is out with an injury. The team will also be bringing along a few ‘associated’ players from the other local U18 team so that they can share in the experience and provide some needed depth. Sakowich is joined behind the bench by three assistant coaches, who he credits with doing all the real work: Jay Alix, Colin Hefferan, and Dustin Psysk.
“It’s been such an amazing group; we can just tell they have good parents. No problems, just super respectful. It’s been a long season, but we’ll be sad when it’s over because this group will never get to play together again,” he said.