An arena packed completely full of hockey fans young and old exploded with excitement and pride last Saturday night in Haliburton when the Highland Storm Midgets took the All-Ontario Championship game undefeated against the Dunnville Mudcats in overtime.
The game ended with the 12th straight win in a row for the team who swept the playoffs and celebrated with exuberance after the goal brought the score to 2-1 throwing helmets in the air and gathering together on the ice at the A.J. LaRue arena for group hugs with each other and their coaches.
“The team’s a great bunch of young men a very talented group of individuals” said Coach James Reilly after the game.
“They didn’t like being down in the game they actually got very frustrated and didn’t take it very well. They didn’t want it to be that way long wanted to get back on top and were very aggressive in being successful.”
Reilly said the team adapted well and were very receptive to the vision of their coaches.
For many of the players headed off to post-secondary school or work the game on March 24 marked the end of their Storm career making the win particularly emotional.
“Out of the 18 players (20 with affiliate players) for 10 of those boys it was their last game and most have been playing together since they were in Timbits” said Tammy Smith mom to Owen Smith.
“I know how proud their families are of them and for the other boys who have another year it was just as bittersweet as they too have played shoulder to shoulder with all these boys for many years.”
Reilly agreed saying the players were all friends as well as being teammates with the third-year players helping to mentor and develop the younger players.
“They’re a very close team on and off the ice” he said. “They lifted each other up and were very concerned about each other. In hockey and team sports that’s very important. That doesn’t happen every year for a coach. That’s a big reason for our success this year.”
Many of the group have been playing together since they were three or four years old.
“It’s so exciting and sad for some like our fam jam because that was Owen’s very last OMHA game ever” said Smith. “So gold was the perfect ending for the boys in that situation to end it all off.”
“As a hockey mom watching this group of boys makes me so proud and emotional as they skated together in their last game Saturday” said Shannon Walker mom to Shawn Walker. “They fought hard and never gave up…It was so emotional and nerve-racking…and then we score and win!”
Parents flooded the ice after the game to take photos and be with their kids who joked about their play-off beards and expressed impatience with the photo session wanting to skate the trophy around the ice.
“I just can’t express the overwhelming emotions that come over you as a parent watching this unfold” said Walker. “The support from the community was amazing. I just love these boys so much and I really enjoyed watching them all season. My son has never had the joy of winning an all-Ontario championship and to be able to watch him experience this dream of his come true was something I will never forget.”
“All of the families are truly that” said Smith. “Family with each other not just in hockey but in life.”
Reilly said Rich Smith and Jamie Dollo were some of the best assistant coaches he’s ever worked with that Scott Vasey was a great manager and trainer Craig Smith was a rock who was always there for the kids.
“That’s what made it successful” he said. “Just a great unit – parents staff everything – the end result was winning the championships.