The Miniota-Elkhorn C-Hawks took care of business last week and flew to their second straight North Central Hockey League championship.
With news swirling about various sports league suspending their seasons and Hockey Canada cancelling all sanctioned events due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the NCHL decided to shorten its best-of-five championship finals to a best out of three. That set up a winner take all tilt in Elkhorn on March 12. The hosts triumphed 9-4 to beat the Russell Rams for the second straight season.
“We figured with everything going on with the coronavirus, it was going to be our last game for a while,” C-Hawks forward Taylor Sanheim said. “We didn’t know for sure that game three was going to be the final game of the series until about 30 minutes before the game. I feel like it helped our team as we didn’t have the nerves of it being a do or die kind of game until it was right before and then it was all about going out there and playing.”
In the final game, Miniota-Elkhorn held a 4-1 first period lead. With two powerplay markers before the first intermission, Russell pulled to within one, 4-3. The C-Hawks lit the lamp twice in the second to increase their lead to three, 6-3. In the final period of the season, Miniota-Elkhorn outscored the Rams, 3-1, to ensure the victory. C-Hawks coach Garth Mitchell said it was a solid effort by the team.
“I really felt that our depth was the difference and our whole group had a real solid game,” he said. “Early on and throughout the game we played very well five-on-five and generated offence off of hard work in all three zones.”
Jason Bowles paced the C-Hawks in the finale with five points, including two goals. Kelsey McLeod scored a hat trick and had four points. Goalie Cory Gardham made 22 saves on 26 shots. Bradley Bowles led the C-Hawks in the playoffs with 11 goals and 19 points in eight games.
With the Manitoba Senior A playdowns cancelled, the NCHL championship concluded another strong season for the C-Hawks. The team went undefeated, 20-0-0 in the regular season. In the playoffs, the C-Hawks swept Moosomin, 2-0, and Langenburg, 3-0, to advance to the finals. Miniota-Elkhorn beat Russell, 7-4, in game one at home. The host Rams won game two, 5-1. It was the C-Hawks’ lone loss of the season. What has made the team successful?
“We are very fortunate to have a very talented and dedicated group of players from Elkhorn and Miniota that have grown up playing minor hockey together and really have a strong team bond,” Mitchell said. “The team has a very strong sense of pride in our team and our communities. Their dedication and commitment make it a true privilege to coach.”
Sanheim said the best part of playing for the team is seeing all the hockey talent the communities produce.
“We are all local guys that grew up around the area or have a connection to the area,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to have such a good team for two small communities like Miniota and Elkhorn.”