Thunder Bay Northern Hawks are back-to-back Keystone Cup gold medalist. A year after winning on home ice the Hockey Northwest Ontario (HNO) champion traveled to Peguis, Manitoba last weekend and repeated the feat, this time defeating their city rival Thunder Bay Fighting Walleye 4-2 in the final.
It was the second edition of the Keystone Cup 'Border Battle' featuring top Junior B teams from HNO and Hockey Manitoba. Keystone Junior Hockey League winner Peguis Juniors hosted the tournament in a 53-hour marathon of games with each team playing five times.
Peguis opened the tournament with a round robin game against the KJHL regular season winner Cross Lake Islanders, who were undermanned all weekend. Cross Lake traveled with just 13 skaters and one goaltender. Juniors scored an easy 9-3 victory behind a hat trick performance from league top scorer Tyrome Spence-Bair.
The two Thunder Bay teams would win each matchup against their western neighbors with the Northern Hawks (3-0-0) finishing atop the round robin standings. A 7-0 shutout of Cross Lake in the semifinals put them in position for gold.
After a Day 1 defeat at the hands of their league rival the Fighting Walleye cruised their way to the gold medal game defeating Peguis 5-3 in their semifinal matchup. That set up a rematch of the Lakehead Junior Hockey League Finals which the Northern Hawks won in five games.
The bronze medal game also featured a league championship rematch between the Islanders and Juniors, who came back from being down 3-1 in the best-of seven series to win Game 7 in Cross Lake. This time the Islanders flipped the script walking away with a 4-2 win on Peguis ice with the bronze medals around their necks.
In the end the weekend belonged to the Northern Hawks who captured all three titles (LJHL regular season and playoff) this season. They finished their season with an impressive record of 34-7-1 overall, 13-1 in the postseason.
Head coach Frank Felice was thrilled with his team saying, "This is a fantastic victory for everyone. The graduating 21s (Justin Muir, Cosimo Pasqualino, Lucas Sandberg, Carson Smith) get to go out on top and the other vets and rookies can enjoy being champions until next spring. All the players and staff did their part throughout the tournament and can share in this great win. They are all champions!"