Just two short years ago the Blind River Beavers were in dire straits.
The squad failed to win a single game in their 52 regular season outings.
Things improved somewhat a year ago as the Beavers registered 10 victories. As for this season, nobody is laughing at the Blind River franchise now.
That’s because the Beavers have greatly exceeded expectations, winning 32 of their 56 regular season outings. And the Blind River club, which had an opening-round playoff bye, managed to win its next two rounds and now finds itself battling the Powasson Voodoos in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League best-of-seven championship final.
“I think our goal was to be competitive and to be in the middle of our division somewhere,” said Kyle Brick, who is in his first season as Blind River’s head coach. “We’re pretty happy where we are now.”
Yes, the Beavers are trailing Powassan 2-0 in their championship final. But they are confident they can rebound in the series, which resumes with Game 3 in Blind River on Thursday night, and go on to win the NOJHL title.
The NOJHL champs advance to the Dudley Hewitt Cup, set for May 2-6 in Trenton, Ont. And the winner of that regional qualifying tournament moves on to the national Junior A championship, the RBC Cup, which begins May 13 in Cobourg, Ont.
So the possibility still exists that the Beavers, who were winless two years ago, could conceivably still advance to the nationals this season.
The host Voodoos downed Blind River 4-1 in their series opener last Friday. And Powassan also eked out a 3-2 victory on home ice the following night.
“Everybody has been asking me all week what I am going to do differently going into Game 3 and I say nothing,” said Brick, who was the assistant coach with the NOJHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Thunderbirds the previous two seasons. “The only thing I want to change is the result.”
Brick certainly put his stamp of change on the Beavers. Though several others were eligible to return, he opted to keep just four players from last year’s Blind River roster.
“The four kids I did bring back were kids I knew from the area,” said Brick, a native of Thessalon, located about 50 kilometres west of Blind River.
The fact the Beavers are still playing rather competitive hockey now is also surprising considering the squad has just 14 healthy regular skaters (nine forwards and five defencemen).
Five of Blind River’s key players have season-ending injuries. As a result, Brick has been forced to dress some Midget-aged affiliate players, who despite the team’s short bench have only been receiving limited shifts.
Despite their injury woes, the Beavers have remained upbeat.
“The boys are pretty confident,” Brick said. “Even though we lost Game 2 in Powassan it was a close game and they scored with about six minutes left. They’re still pretty positive.”
Not bad for a franchise that was winless two years ago. Not bad at all.
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