The Hawkesbury Hawks continue to roll, as the team gets ready for the Central Canada Junior Hockey League (CJHL) playoffs.
On Friday, March 11, the Hawks avenged their shutout loss to the Pembroke Lumber Kings the previous weekend by filling the net with four goals during a second period scoring outburst, on their way to a 6-2 win. Rylee Hlusiak fired home two goals for the Hawks and was named the game’s first star, with Jakson Kirk, Bradley Horner, Ryan Murphy and Thomas Cusson adding singles. Hawks centre Josh Spratt recorded three assists in the contest, while goaltender Dimitri Pelekos stopped 18 of the 20 shots he faced to earn the victory.
“We were happy to have more success on Friday than on Sunday in their rink,” said Hawks Head Coach Rick Dorval, who felt his team created more second and third opportunities in the return match-up. “That’s what we need to do to put a couple of goals in.”
The Hawks followed up their win over Pembroke with a 4-1 road victory over the Navan Grads on Sunday, March 13. William Gendron – the game’s first star – fired home the eventual winner early in the second period to break a 1-1 tie, while Cusson, Kirk, and Murphy also scored for Hawkesbury. Matthew Tovell stopped 32 of 33 shots to earn the win in net and was named the game’s third star.
With the two victories, the Hawks are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and remain in second place behind the Ottawa Junior Senators, with a 31-10-2-2 record on the season. They were scheduled to face the Smiths Falls Bears in a road game on Tuesday, March 15 (score unavailable at press time).
Dorval said with a 10-point gap between the Hawks and the Junior Senators and only 11 games left in the season, the team’s focus is on being ready for the playoffs rather than chasing first place.
“For us to catch Ottawa we’d need help,” Dorval observed. “Realistically we have to focus on being ready and being at our best come puck drop in our playoff opener and not worry about the regular season standings.”
“We are confident in the group we have here and we’ve shown in the last month and a half that if we play the right way we can beat any team in this league. We’re excited to see what we can accomplish with the guys we have.”
With their hot streak in the second half of the season, the Hawks have moved into the top 20 in the Canadian Junior Hockey League rankings and stood in 17th place last week. The team is expected to move up even further when this week’s rankings are released. The Junior Senators are ranked sixth in Canada.
The high ranking at this point in the season is a bit of a surprise for a young Hawkesbury team that was supposed to be rebuilding in 2022.
“We were built for all-in last year and we had a big turnaround this season,” Dorval noted. “We knew we had a playoff team, but when we started winning games, that’s when we said ‘you know what, we need to add a few pieces’.”
Dorval said netminders Dimitri Pelekos and Matthew Tovell really stepped up after Max Donaso was called up to the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
“Obviously Donoso was a big loss for us and we wish him all the success in the world in the OHL, but we don’t seem to have missed a beat with Tovell coming in. Our starting goaltenders have been unbelievable for us and it really builds confidence throughout the whole hockey club.”
Hawkesbury will host the Rockland Nationals on Friday, March 18, at the Robert Hartley Sports Complex, beginning at 7:30 p.m. On Sunday, March 20, the Hawkesbury visits Renfrew for a 2 p.m. start. The Hawks will be back home on Tuesday, March 22, to face Carleton Place in a game that begins at 7:30 p.m.
- With files from Mac Hinton