Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report
The Niagara Thunderhawks U22 team beat the Hamilton Bengals in two straight games to win their best of three series and capture the Zone 9 “A” division championship on July 14 in Hamilton.
With the series win, the team remains undefeated this season, riding a 15-game win streak.
Although the team started the pivotal game versus Hamilton slowly and made some uncharacteristic mistakes, goalie Jack Maraca was able to hold off the Bengals till the team in front of him clued into their mistakes and upped their play.
The did just that, dominating their opponents in the third period as the Thunderhawks left the floor tallying seven goals for a 7-1 win.
Jordan Wiens started the scoring with a laser beam of a shot over the shoulder of the Bengals’ goalie, who throughout the game provided the greatest challenge to the Thunderhawks to date.
Rookie defender Sam VanderZalm, in his first and only season with the Thunderhawks, added a goal, to a thunderous cheer from his teammates.
Jack Parker and Wiens, with his second, followed suit before Hunter Ostromecki put the game out of reach with a natural hat trick, three goals in a row.
The win didn’t have the feel of a major championship due to the lack of fanfare, no representation from the league and especially the lack of a championship banner being present, a customary tradition in games such as these.
Spirits, however, wouldn’t be overshadowed by these omissions.
The Thunderhawks cheered each other at their goal and complimented their opponents in the traditional series-ending post-game handshakes.
After a short celebration in the dressing room, their focus was the team’s next major goal, winning the Conradi-Engemann Memorial Tournament July 22 to 24 at home in Virgil.
The Conradi tournament has been the largest U22 tournament in the province for a few decades and has often been referred to as the real provincial championship for the U22s.
The tournament attracts 16 teams from all over Ontario, when most other tournaments only have four teams.
This year the top six teams in the province are participating.
It also is held on a weekend, allowing most players to attend the tournament, unlike the provincial championships which are held mid-week, often making it difficult for players to get time off, in some cases, from their full-time jobs.
The U22 Thunderhawks take on Owen Sound on July 22 at 7 p.m., then play Kawartha Lakes July 23 at 9 a.m. and Sudbury at 2 p.m.
If they win a 10 p.m. semifinal game, Niagara will compete in the “A” championship, Sunday, July 24 at 2:30 p.m.
Andy Boldt is head coach of the U22 Niagara Thunderhawks.