The Vancouver North West Hawks showed a lot of growth on their way to winning the B.C. Elite Hockey League U17 AAA championship this season.
Like, literal growth.
The U17 Hawks – a high-level youth team made up predominantly of players from the North Shore, along with additions from Squamish, Whistler, and the Sunshine Coast – clinched the championship crown with a 6-3 win over the Vancouver North East Chiefs Saturday (April 2) in Coquitlam, completing a two-game sweep of the best-of-three playoff final. The sweep of the Chiefs ended a stirring string of playoff upsets that saw the Hawks, fifth-place finishers in the regular season, knock off the fourth-ranked Valley West Giants and second-ranked Fraser Valley Thunderbirds before beating the top-ranked Chiefs to claim the title.
“It was kind of a magical playoff run for those guys,” said Hawks head coach Scott Hewson. “I’m a very proud coach of these kids and how hard they worked to get here.”
It wasn’t simply magic that got the team the title though, as Hewson noted how the group – the youngest in the league – grew from a team that was physically smaller than all of their opponents at the start of the season to a team that was powering to a title at the end of it. Teams in the BCEHL were allowed to carry up to seven players born in 2005 on their roster this season, but the Hawks had just four, said Hewson, adding that he recalls looking at his team lined up for the national anthem at the start of the season and noticing how much smaller they looked than all the other teams.
“We got kind of pushed around quite a bit at the start of the year,” he said, adding that things changed around the Christmas break when several players seemingly went through big growth spurts all at the same time. After the break, it was the Hawks who were looming large during the pre-game lineup.
“All the kids just kind of really grew after Christmas, and we became one of the bigger teams in the league,” said Hewson with a laugh. “The kids are towering over me now.”
But it wasn’t just size that carried the team to a title, said Hewson, adding that the Hawks played with skill and smarts throughout their playoff run. Forwards Deacon Drummond, Rylan Oatman, Owen Brennan and Liam Payne along with defencemen Liam Hoff were the top five point-getters in the entire league during the playoffs. Hewson said other playoff standouts included Josh Williams, Dawson Coté and captain Laszlo Istvanffy, along with goalkeeper Josh Ravensbergen, who went 6-1 in the playoffs with a 2.25 goals against average.
Hewson said the team’s penalty kill, led by Williams, Drummond, Tristan Payne, Liam Payne, and Bode Pearson, was instrumental in the playoff run, putting up a 90 per cent kill rate. Conversely, the team’s power play was humming along at more than 30 per cent.
“I almost consider that was the changing point for our team going in the playoffs, that our power play and penalty kill were just unbelievable,” said Hewson, adding the Hawks got contributions from players throughout the lineup.
“It just felt like the team really grew through the playoffs from the first game to the last game,” he said. “They just were super confident kids, and it looked like an NHL sort of style Stanley Cup team: very well balanced, a lot of guys got to play, there wasn't anybody really not chipping in.”
Add it all up and it equalled a strong championship run, knocking off the top teams in the league.
“It was just kind of a ragtag bunch of kids that found their momentum and really developed as players and kids, and just turned it on and got hot at the right time,” said Hewson, who was joined behind the bench by assistant coach Scot Dickson and trainer Chelsea Jit. “As the year went on, they just got more confident and just improved a lot, which was really cool.”
The championship win topped a strong playoff season for the entire Vancouver North West Hawks organization, as the club’s U15 AAA team also won the BCEHL title, while the U18 AAA team made the championship final and finished second.
“To have all three teams make the finals and two of the three win championships is nothing short of incredible, and a lot of the credit has to go to the people in the organization, the coaching staffs, that helped the teams get there,” said Chris Shaw, general manager for the Hawks program.
There will be changes for the Hawks heading into next season, as the program will be moving its home base from the North Shore Winter Club to Hollyburn Country Club. There will also be a new club general manager at the helm, as Shaw will be moving on to a new opportunity. He’ll be replaced by Matt Samson, the founding general manager and head coach of the North Van Wolf Pack junior B franchise.