Strong teamwork and a standout goaltending performance saw the U18A Mohawks return home with hardware from the Ottawa River Cup last weekend after clinching the bronze medal.
“They all played hard, they all came out playing, and it shows. They won the bronze and it was a really good game,” said Valerie Bonspille, whose son RJ Cross plays on the team, which moved to the Eastern Hockey League (EHL) at the start of this season. “They played as a team, they had their hearts in it, and they played their hardest.”
The first game, against the Applewood Coyotes on Friday afternoon, saw the Mohawks lose 6-1. On Saturday, they took on the Jets La Lièvre, securing a 1-1 tie. The Duffield Devils proved to be the Mohawks’ biggest competition, scoring a 9-0 victory over the team before the Mohawks took the bronze medal in a 5-0 win against the Jets.
Despite the 9-0 loss, the Mohawks pushed back in their victory against the Jets. Bonspille said goaltender Tyler Sauk, who recently joined the team, was a driving force in securing the bronze medal.
“(Tyler) was amazing. He made such amazing stops, and at the end the guys came and piled up on him and hugged him, and it was something to see. Without their goaltender, it would’ve been a different turnout for sure,” Bonspille said.
Sauk, who is not Indigenous, recently joined the team after meeting one of the team’s coaches, Terrance Mckeown, at a high school soccer match. He mentioned the team needed a goalie, and Sauk, who is a seasoned ball hockey player, had recently started goaltending, after teaching himself how to skate a few years ago. At the start of this season, he began playing with the Mohawks.
“I really appreciate what he did, because he gave me an opportunity with his hockey team, and that’s where I am right now,” said Sauk.
“I’ve got this team and I’m improving every game. I’m doing the best that I can, and I’m having fun,” he said. “I really appreciate what they’ve done for me, and for accepting me.”
Sauk was named most valuable player (MVP) of each match he played – including the ones where the Mohawks lost. He said that it felt amazing to be able to show the team he’s someone they can rely on to make consistent saves.
“I’m grateful for this opportunity, and I’m just taking advantage of everything I can, and trying my best out there,” he said. “And considering it’s my first year ever in hockey, it shows that I’m really about putting the effort into these games.”
Tyler’s father, Scott Sauk, has also been grateful for the opportunities he’s been having on the ice.
“I’m extremely, extremely, extremely proud. He started way late, so it’s so amazing what he’s doing,” he said. “He’s already got some friends on the team, and I understand it took some time to warm up. But after Sunday my Facebook was going crazy with friend requests, even though before I barely talked to anybody.”
As well as welcoming Tyler to the team, the Mohawks also called up Darris Jones, who usually plays for the B team. His father, Al Jones, said what stood out to him the most was the teamwork on the ice.
“The good thing I was seeing was that no one was trying to take it upon themselves to win the game. They played great as a team. Every time they had the puck, it was pass-pass-pass-score. It wasn’t like any one guy was trying to control the whole game,” he said. “I believe that helped them win, because (Jets La Lièvre) couldn’t key on one player, so that was very important in their victory.”
Al also noted that goals were scored by multiple different players, demonstrating the strength of the squad. Goals were scored by RJ Cross, Stone McGregor, Daly Lazar, and Ratetshenawi Cross.
“Their defence was great, the goalie was amazing, and the offence took care of the rest,” Jones said. “(Tyler) was making amazing saves. Any shot, he was all over it. He was in the zone the whole time.”
Scott said he understands why the team may have been apprehensive about a non-Native playing with them and highlighted the ongoing racism in the hockey world. In fact, he said, there was one racist incident at the tournament this weekend, where one of the opposing teams started doing a “war cry.”
“What I heard was disgusting. I told the organizers, ‘Look, it’s already hard enough, to be honest. You’re really lucky that only me and a couple of parents heard it, because if the team had heard it, it would have been – excuse my language – a shit show.’ And I wouldn’t blame them,” he said. “But otherwise, the tournament was great, and the other people were great. But racist comments like that, it’s already hard.”
Kurt Hyland, who was one of the organizers of last weekend’s tournament and an admin and hockey coordinator at Canadian Hockey Enterprise (CHE) said the situation was immediately addressed at the event and a follow-up email was sent to all participating teams in the tournament to reiterate the seriousness of the situation. He said the president of the opposing organization was also a parent and immediately apologized to players and coaches of the Kahnawake team. Hyland also shared the email sent to teams on Friday with THE EASTERN DOOR.
“I want this message to be very clear: Any player who makes any hateful remarks specific to race or language will be suspended for the remainder of the tournament. Any team that fails to comply and continues to cause problems will be removed from the tournament and no longer welcome in future CHE tournaments,” the email reads.
“On a more personal level, I have both a Québécois and First Nation background, and will not have a tournament be derailed by situations like this,” he added.
The U18A Mohawks’ next game is tonight, against the Cote St. Luc Red Canucks at the Ed Meagher Arena.