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Every successful team says so.

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How close they are in the locker room, how much they believe in each other, how truly brothers they are, blah blah blah…

But there’s no talking about the 2021-22 Mitchell Hawks. It’s been a postponement for some time and it paid off with their first-ever Provincial Junior Hockey League (PJHL) Pollock Division championship since moving from Junior ‘D’ 14 seasons ago. .

The Hawks have won four Junior “D” championships in their 55-year history, in their second year in existence in 1967–68; back to back in 1992-93 and 1993-94 when they were really dominant; and again in 2006-07 when they competed in the Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League (SOJHL). Two years later, they iced a team in what was then known as the Western Junior C League, a league which was absorbed into the PJHL in 2016-17 as one of eight divisions.

The genesis of the club’s close bond began a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, head coach Daryl O’Connell has repeatedly said, leading a staff that included assistant coach Josh Keil, who is the current CEO.

Keil made it a point to maintain continuity with Ryan Murray, Tyson Hall, Charlie Rankin, Braeden Burdett and Sean Chisholm, then complemented it with a seasoned trio of veterans older than defender Malcolm McLeod, goalkeeper Tyler Parr and the Evan Dowd Center. Sprinkle in a local dose of local players such as the McMann brothers, Callum and Aiden; Zach Dow, Seth Huygen and Bradley Boville all came together under the tutelage of an experienced bench manager in Louie Livingston and his hand-picked assistants in Ken Jacklin, Holdyn Lansink and Ben Nelson.

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For a man, all indicated how close they were to becoming division champions.

“It’s hard to put my thoughts together right now, but I couldn’t imagine doing it with a better group of guys,” said Dowd, whose older brother Spencer played with the Hawks until it ended in 2019. -20. “We fought all year. We came together as a team and we’ve never been closer than we are right now. And to do it with my fellow OAs, it was nice we got brought in last year and I’m just glad we got to bring one back to Mitchell.

“Mitchell needs it, they’re late and I’m so happy for the city.”

Burdett, 20, in his third season as a Hawk with junior “B” experience at St. Marys, called the win “incredible.”

“We worked so hard as a team. From the moment we were all together for our first training session, that was what we dreamed of,” he said after the Game 7 win in Hannover, having led the team with eight goals in the first three rounds of the playoffs. “It’s an incredible experience. I’ve never had this before and probably never will again so I’m going to experience it tonight. It’s awesome.”

“There are no words I can put in my mouth right now. It’s awesome,” added Rankin, who capped the series with a five-point game and recorded all kinds of ice time. as a regular defensive partner to McLeod, but was a spark offensively in the Hanover Series in particular.

He led the Hawks in points after the first three rounds, with three goals and 10 assists in 15 games.

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“It’s one of the best feelings. We earned it and we went out and earned it,” he said.

Unsung newcomers all had a part to play too, including Lucan import Mark Cassidy, whose solid two-way play all season was impressive; striker Nolan Gagnier, from Brucefield, acquired during the pandemic from Goderich and who shone in numerical inferiority; and five Stratford rookies who had experience winning at the minor hockey level: brothers Caleb and Carter Musselman, Callan Ferguson, Patrick Holloway and Jared Lesouder.

defender Jameson Mitchell, of Tavistock; and rugged forward Brent Krahn of Huron East added depth, as did affiliates Zach McCann of Stratford’s major midget program; and Connor Lockhart of the Mitchell U18 team who also won a provincial title just a few weeks ago.

“All guys should be proud of themselves. I’m proud of guys who get scratched and have to sit out,” Parr said. “I am also extremely proud of my goalkeeper partner. Bradley [Boville] couldn’t always play but he always supported me. He was probably my biggest supporter and I appreciate him.

Livingston agreed with Parr’s assessment of Boville, 19, a rookie goaltender who graduated from the Mitchell minor hockey program.

“He never says a bad word, he’s the best teammate and he works hard in training,” Livingston said. “That’s the whole story. That’s why you have a team like this.

There is also a strong historical family connection in the roster, as Boville’s father, Rob, was a key part of the Hawks’ back-to-back provincial titles in 1992-93 and 1993-94. Carter Lewis’ dad Rob and Uncle Jeff were also on the 1993-94 team, while Tyson Hall’s dad Sean was also a Hawk for two seasons.

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Without a doubt, the greatest family connection came from the McManns of Mitchell. Bert served as the Hawks’ manager shortly after moving to town in the early 1970s and served in that capacity until 1982-83, helping bring good hockey to Mitchell, although he was not there is no championship. They came very close a few times, though. His son Troy played three seasons with the Hawks as a versatile defenseman/forward, from 1987-88 to 1989-90; then just over a decade later he was head coach in 2001-02 and 2002-03. His two sons have played on the blue line this season, Callum, 20, and Aiden, 18, the latter playing and skating oddly like his father.

Bert was a fixture at every Hawks game, even more so this season with the presence of his grandsons, and always had advice for Livingston when their paths crossed. Lucky pucks that found their way to McMann during warm-ups also played a part in the success, both men also agreed.

Parr started his junior career as a 16-year-old at Mitchell in 2017-18, supporting mostly veteran Curtis Laviolette that season, and was excited to come back and win a championship this time around.

“It’s great,” he said. “It really is a special place where I started my junior career. They gave me an opportunity and I can’t thank them enough.

“Winning with this group of guys…it all means so much,” Dowd added.

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