Bantam set to close out season
One more road trip this weekend and it’s all over for the Fort Frances Bantam ‘AA’ Canadians for another season.
The Canadians will play in the Northwestern Ontario Bantam ‘AA’ League championship in Dryden, although Canadians’ head coach Brent Tookenay said the name suggests a little more glory than what’s really at stake.
“It’s just something we wanted to do for the kids,” he noted.
“Just to let them say someone finished first, second, and so on.”
The Canadians’ campaign truly was a tale of two seasons. A sputtering start was followed up with a dazzling second half.
“In October and November, it was a difficult balance with some of the kids involved in [Muskie] court sports,” Tookenay explained.
“It was tough to get everyone together even for a practice.
“We still did a good job in the league in November, then went to a tournament in Dryden and lost in the final and then finished fourth at our home tournament,” he recalled.
That unsatisfying result in front of the home crowd prompted a look-in-the-mirror approach at dealing with their difficulties—which ended up paying off handsomely.
“We had a couple of team meetings where we talked about commitment and doing things right,” Tookenay said.
“After that, the boys really got on a roll.”
Fort Frances won its next tournament in Kenora and did the same over in International Falls, before finishing as the runner-up at an event in Portage la Prairie, Man.
Seven members of the team helped comprise the Bantam ‘AA’ regional squad, which travelled to Brandon, Man. and came home with the championship.
When the team reunited again, it resulted in another tournament crown—this time in Thunder Bay.
“I thought the guys were fantastic in Thunder Bay,” lauded Tookenay.
“Part of our job as coaches is to give the tools to the players, especially the second-year players, so that when they move on to play Minor Midget or with the Muskies or wherever, they have the tools they need in their toolbox to succeed at the next level,” he reasoned.
Tookenay’s philosophy was exemplified by the duo of Brett Hahkala and Noah Loveday.
The forwards went from being mainstays on the Canadians to part of the “Kid Line” with fellow Bantam-ager Cole Tymkin, which proved vital in the Muskies’ run to another NorWOSSA title and an eventual appearance in the quarter-finals at the OFSAA ‘AA’ championship in Burlington/Oakville.
“We made adjustments to Brett’s game and moved him to the wing,” noted Tookenay.
“He really took off from there,” he said. “It was more of a natural fit for him there.
“Noah is a natural centre,” Tookenay added.
“When [Muskie head coach] Jamie Davis approached me when the Muskies lost a couple of players in mid-season, he told me he understood the regional team came first but he wanted to add these guys.
“There were times where they would practice with the Muskies, grab something to eat, and then come practice with us,” Tookenay chuckled.
Change is the name of the game at the ‘AA’ level as team rosters perpetually are in flux due to second-year players moving up to the next age bracket after the completion of their season.
The story is no different for the Bantam Canadians, who have eight eligible returnees from this year’s roster of 17 players looking to make the squad next year.
“You certainly want to be clear that all spots are up for grabs and that some guys have different options that they might look into,” said Tookenay, who added his appreciation for the support the team received.
“Our parent group was really good,” he lauded.
“As coaches, of course, you like to run the team like a junior team, so you take games here and there, but we really think the extra games have helped our team and all the teams in the region,” Tookenay added.
He thinks that showed when the top players from each team went to the branch playdowns in Thunder Bay and gave the Kings—with their 60 games of experience compared to 12 for the regional squad—all they could handle.
“That speaks pretty well of what we’ve been able to do,” Tookenay said.