Jock Talk: Back-to-back baby!!!

I sat smiling, with my back against the coach bus window, as the Midget Stars passed around The J.H. “Jack” Stafford Trophy while staring at it as if it were Kim Kardashian.

A few hours earlier, that same group of knuckleheads (and I mean that in a good way) were hoisting that same trophy over their heads like it was Lord Stanley’s Cup.

In a season where no one thought, they could repeat as champions, not with a new “inexperienced” coaching staff and key components missing or so they were told.

Well, Saturday night, that “inexperienced” coaching staff and those knuckleheads captured its second consecutive OMHA Midget Championship.

It was quite a memorable day quite watching the transformation that these boys went through as we rode a coach bus four hours up to Stouffville.

It was around 12:30 p.m. when the bus rolled out of the old barn parking lot.
Parents were laughing as one of the few spots that were left was back with the players. That’s ok, I didn’t mind, I actually preferred it.

My seatmate was none other than the scrappy forward Jack St. Louis. (One of my favourite playdown memories is in the Grimsby series, Jack took a shot in the chops after the whistle, then smilied and laughed at the Grimsby goon.)
I placed my equipment safely in whatever nook I could find and took my seat next to Jack and off we went.

I was surrounded by all of them, Jack, Daniel Slipchuk, Nick Keeler, Mark Fenty, Zoran Popel, Mike Popel, Matt Rosati, Adam Robinson, Blaine Bechard, Dean

The boys just relaxing on the bus

Shepley, Luke Parlette, Jordan Ryan, Brandin Crosier, Tyler Morand, and Cam Scott. However, Frank Desjardins, Tyler Pope-Ferguson, Eric Shaw and Dan Bondy had alternative ways of getting up to Stouffville.

It wasn’t even 20 minutes into the ride when Blaine Bechard was already requesting that Adam Robinson give back his missing shoe. Another 10 minutes would pass before his request was granted.

For those who were following the RTT on Facebook Saturday afternoon, knew that I had grabbed a quote from the majority of the players on that bus. After all this was their day…it’s not everyday that a team goes on the road to battle for a championship. I wanted to help make this day as special as possible for them. The best way I could do that was to throw a quote on Facebook so all of Amherstburg knew what they were thinking.

In between grabbing quotes from players and telling them how I destroyed Mike Popel in NHL 11 online, lunch was passed out.

The players were given homemade, personal lasagnas, made by Helen Popel. As I handed the mini lasagnas to the players behind me, much to my surprise a personal tin found its way onto my lap with garlic bread may I add.

I think the only time the back of the bus was quiet was when everyone was stuffing their face, but even then, Adam Robinson managed to bust out a few wise cracks.

Some people slept, but not for very long thanks toDaniel Slipchuk and I who took it upon ourselves to have a little fun at the expense of Nick Keeler while he napped (sorry Keeler.)

Others sat back and enjoyed the on bus movie or listened to their music.
However, the closer we got to our destination, the more focused the boys became. Although, they were still laughing and smiling, the mood was starting to shift into game mode.

By the time the bus pulled up to the Stouffville Arena, the boys were dressed in their suits and focused on the task at hand.

I was able to pop into the dressing room for a few minutes before the Stars took

Tyler Morand in deep thought before the game.

the ice. The moment I stepped foot in the room, I knew the boys were all business.

They all sat at their stalls, lost in their own thoughts. There was no laughing, no smiling and no joking. It was game time and the boys were ready. Not a single player said a word as I went around the room shaking their hands and wished them good luck. I could tell by the look in their eyes, all they wanted to do was get on the ice.

When they stepped on the ice they were greeted by a loud cheer from family and friends who either made it there on the bus or drove down on their own to show their support.

The crowd was evenly split, half Stouffville, half Amherstburg.

When the puck dropped, it didn’t take long to realize that this was going to be a knockdown, drag out fight for the championship.

The game was a war.

I held my breath each time the Stars brought the puck into the Stouffville zone. When Eric Shaw scored that first goal and the Amherstburg fans exploded in celebration I felt a little relief, but I also knew there was a long way to go.

Mark Fenty saved his best performance for Game Five. The slender goalie stood on his head, making save after breathtaking save.  He was sliding across the crease numerous times to steal the puck out of the air with his glove hand.

Although, it made things very interesting when Stouffville tied the game up with a shorthanded goal, all you had to do was look into Mark’s eyes to know not another puck would get past him.

Mark’s play picked up his teammates and they rewarded their goalie when Cameron Scott banged in the go-ahead goal midway through the final period.

As the seconds ticked off the clock the Stars looked to be getting stronger and stronger, keeping the puck away from a desperate Stouffville squad.

With less than a minute left and Stouffville’s goalie out of the net and threatening in the Stars zone, the Clippers seemed to have an open shot until two Stars sacrificed their bodies by heaving themselves in front of the shot. The shot was blocked and Amherstburg was able to flip the biscuit down the ice.

The Stars celebrate seconds after the final buzzer.

When time ended and the gloves and helmets littered the ice the boys huddled against the glass celebrating a championship that no one thought they could win.

The coaching staff of Matt Fox, Steve Dender, TJ McWhinnie and Ted Jacobs got the boys to buy into their style of hockey and it paid off, in the most glorious way.

I was asked which championship was better, last year’s or this year’s. They are both amazing, for different reasons. Last year’s ended a 23-year championship drought. This year’s, in my opinion, was an unexpected championship win.

I have covered this team all season long and to see them hold that trophy on Stouffville’s ice, made my smile so big you’d swear I was the one who won a championship.

Back in the locker room, the boys filled that cup up with orange Powerade and

Assistant coach TJ McWhinnie and head coach Matt Fox hold up the J.H. "Jack" Stafford Trophy

passed it around. I even got a sip, and let me tell you, orange Powerade never tasted so good.

The celebration continued on the bus. Each player getting his turn to hold the trophy for a while.

As I sat there watching the team enjoy their championship, that is when it hit me, I am a lucky person to be a part of this. The players, coaching staff and the parents welcomed me into their tight knit hockey family with open arms and gave me a unique look into this championship run.

What topped it all off was when Stars captain Jordan Ryan grabbed the trophy and handed it my way.

“Here, hold it, sit with it awhile. You’re a part of this team too,” he said.

As a sports fan, it is a moment that I will never forget.

Thank you Jack St. Louis, Daniel Slipchuk, Nick Keeler, Mark Fenty, Zoran Popel, Mike Popel, Matt Rosati, Adam Robinson, Blaine Bechard, Dean Shepley, Luke Parlette, Jordan Ryan, Brandin Crosier, Tyler Morand, Cam Scott, Frank Desjardins, Tyler Pope-Ferguson, Eric Shaw, Dan Bondy, Matt Fox, Steve Dender, TJ McWhinnie, Ted Jacobs, Marlene Ryan, Helen Popel and all rest of the parents for this memory.

Amherstburg Midget Stars: Back-to-Back OMHA Championships.

You are back-to-back champions and no one can ever take that away from you.

One response to “Jock Talk: Back-to-back baby!!!”

  1. Faith says:

    AMAZING ARTICLE JOEL!