The North American Ball Hockey Championships saw one of the best finals in recent memory with the Leominster Blackhawks narrowly edging the Pittburgh Gods 2-1 in OT.
This is the first championships at the NA’s for the Blackhawks. I was on hand for the entire game and this reporter can tell you that it was one of the most electrifying championship games you’ll ever witness. We spoke with players from both teams to get their thoughts on the game…
Note: MVP Cody Warila of the Blackhawks, who scored both team goals in the championship game, agreed to be interviewed for this article but is dealing with a personal issue due to a death in his family that at press time. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Warila and his friends and family as they deal with this difficult loss. Should Mr. Warila provide comment, we will have that in a separate article.
Blackhawks Captain Nick Caponi:
1. This is your 1st North Americans title. How does it feel and was this any harder to win than any other tournament?
It felt great winning NAs. For most of us we’ve been to this tournament for at least the last 5 years. No it wasnt “harder” taking this one down. We’ve fallen just short in past few years. So, finally taking this tournament home feels really good.
2. Watching the championship game from the stands, it seemed like you guys had a plan to play to play up tempo with the Gods. Was the game itself just uptempo because of the talent level?
We really didn’t have a set “plan” in the finals against the Gods. Really, every time we go out there we just…play hockey. No matter who we are playing. The gods are a talented team so of course every time we play them, its usually a high intensity game.
3. It seemed like the majority of key draws came down to you and [Gods Center] Aaron Hahne. Was this intentional?
Too be completely honest I didn’t even really notice this while the game was going on. Someone else asked me this same thing as well. Every once in a while id go out and take a big draw if need be, but for the most part we just ran our three lines regularly.
4. Was there anyone on the ‘Hawks that stood out to you for overall excellent play?
We played great as a whole and as a team. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have won. But one of our players that really shined this tournament and stood out to me was our defenseman Mike Colcord. The kid played stellar defense, also blocked any shot that came remotely close to him. I joked on the bench with one of my linemates and said its like having two goalies out there when he is on the rink. Kid is as solid as they come.
5. What’s the next tournament we’ll see the Blackhawks competing?
Winning this tournament just gave us a free entry into Barre, Ontario in September. I think this will be the next tourney for the Blackhawks.
Blackhawks Defenseman Mike Colcord:
1. Captain Caponi singled you out as kind of an unsung hero in the tourney in terms of how you played, and blocked shots, and were just a shut down defenseman. So my first question is: What was your goal personally on D going up against the Gods in that game?
My personal goal for the game was the same as it always is, do my part to help our team win. I have found that the little things like blocking shots or shortening shifts tend to help teams succeed and that’s really what I was trying to do.
2. Did you feel at any point like you guys weren’t getting enough shots on Rethage on your power plays? If you did think you got enough shots, were you a little upset as a team that you didn’t grab the lead at that point?
I think that we were getting a good amount of shots on the power play, but we struggled to get one by him. I don’t think that frustration kicked in as much as the drive to get the next shot, or next goal. We knew going into the game that goals would be at a premium because we both play strong defense and have great goalies. I have played with Rethage and know how difficult that it is to score on him. The frustration factor was not really something that I think crept into our game.
3. Talk about the speed of the game overall. Seemed very up tempo, even for two teams as talented as you are. Did that change how you had to play defensively at all?
The speed is always fast when we match up with the Gods. Their forwards are very speedy and forecheck hard. Playing defense against them is always tough. It doesn’t necessarily change the way play as a team. We play our game and try not to get sucked into playing theirs. I do not think that I changed the way I played in the final.
4. How does it feel to have won your first North American Open Championship and whats next for you as a player in terms of big tournaments?
The win was such a great feeling. We have fallen short in the last few attempts at this tournament, but it was great to finally win it. The group of guys that we went with are some of the best guys I know so it was great to experience that with them. Also it made me buying shots at the bar much less painful. As for the next big tournament, it would have to be the Nationals in Leominster. That is always a tough tournament.
Gods Forward Steve Gregory:
1. Was there any point in the game you felt like the Gods had the upper hand and were going to gain the lead?
The culture that has been established throughout our team is we have the belief that we will always win, regardless of the circumstance. A prime example of this was last year’s North American Championships where Buffalo Fusion scored a late goal to go up 2-1. While I feel most teams would feel defeated, we felt like this was when they were most vulnerable. We battled, clawed and fought back to earn a penalty shot with 1.1 seconds left in regulation, leading to a game timing goal and eventually a victory in Overtime to send us to the Finals. In this year’s North American Championship I felt we carried play for most the game. They are a dangerous team and once we went up 1-0 on them we knew we were in for a fight. They are a dangerous team and they showed that throughout the game. When you have two of the best teams in North America going toe to toe with the Championship on the line…anything can happen.
2. It looked like you yourself had some success getting the ball into the zone to set up plays. Why was that?
I don’t know if I would exactly say that; I personally think my chances came too far and few between to be effective. In a game of this magnitude, we knew we would get their best and as far as I was concerned, I knew I would attract a lot of attention from their top defense-men. It seemed as if every time I was on the rink, Andrew Hildreth or Mike Colcord was there to greet me. Needless to say, they aren’t just any defense-men. In games like these, everyone wants to have an impact on the game and even the outcome. In this game I felt that in attracting as much attention as I did from their top guys, this would open up more opportunities for my line mates and even our defensive core. While my line mates and defensive core played exceptional, in hindsight I think I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that I did have, looking to set someone else up a little too much.
3. What did you think of the play of Hawks netminder Robert Vorse?
Games like these aren’t for the faint of heart, especially if you are a goalie. I thought both goalies played unbelievable and in my opinion what made the game go to extra time. Unbelievable, highlight real saves on both ends of the rink; it seemed like each goalie was trying to out do the other. I remember the one save Vorse made on me mid way through the 3rd period. I was just coming onto the rink from a change and the defense-man threw the ball up the middle. I intercepted the pass, took two steps and snapped a wrist shot off going high blocker. 9 out of 10 times this would have been a goal, I actually had to catch myself from putting up my hands thinking it was going in. Somehow, someway, he sticks his but end up and deflects it out of play. That could have been the decider.
4. What did the team say to each other going into overtime?
Our team is polluted with vocal leaders including our head coach Cory Herschk. In games like these, not much really needs to be said, yet somehow Cory always finds a way to say something. He knows how to push the right buttons and he certainly did to start the overtime. As a team we felt that the game was ours for the taking and if they wanted the title, they would have to come through us to take it. Everyone wanted this one worse than the last one because of history behind it (1st team to 3peat) and because of the rivalry we have come to develop with the Hawks. Unfortunately, we ended up on the short end; not because of something we did but because of nice shot that would go in 100% of the time.
Gods Head Coach Cory Herschk
1. What happened on the game winner? Talk about the play when it started with the ball deep in the Hawks zone.
It was a fantastic shot by a fantastic goal scorer. Cody Warila knows how to score big goals against us and he did it again. There’s no complaint on my end about a call or cry over a bad bounce. Both team had even numbers entering our zone in transition, Chris Liebers was in solid position anticipating Warila taking the wall as Liebers defending the middle of the rink, and Warila put one bar down. Great shot!
2. Did you feel during the game like you were getting enough shots on net on [Hawks Goalie] Vorse? It seemed like you had a bit of diffulty getting the ball to the net at times.
Leominster is such a good ball position team that you almost have to understand that they are going to minimize your opportunities. Like us, they are fast on the back check, and smart on the forecheck, so it makes for quite a defensive battle. We would have loved more shots. Especially to beat a top goalie like Vorse. I thought we had our chances though, including a strong power play. You’re not going to win many games when you only put one on the board.
3. Defensively you guys played hard and very fast, and it seemend the Hawks couldn’t use their playmakers to generate space. Was that the plan going in?
Of course. Our defense did an amazing job keeping Leominster from generating offense and staying outside of the circles I thought. Our in zone coverages was tight, the guys showed great gap control throughout the game. Most importantly, when they did get their chances Rethage kept us ahead. I thought the special teams was going to be the key. We gave Leominster 5 power plays including a double minor which they took advantage of. Our guys did a great job keeping that team off the board for the majority of the game.
4. Your overall thoughts on the game in terms of how it was played by both teams and the result.
I’m still wondering why ESPN hasn’t decided to air the game as a classic. It was hands down one of the best championships I’ve ever seen. Proud to be a part of it. As far as the result, it gives us more to strive for.