The Jasper Hockey League is halfway through the 2017/18 season and most observers just have one question: Who the heck are these Hawks?
JHL fans who don’t actually play in the league (there are a couple) will have noticed a few things about this season: First of all, there seems to be a lot more parody between teams. While the current standings are admittedly lopsided, most would agree that the games are generally more competitive, more balanced and altogether more interesting than in years previous.
The league’s top administrator, Commissioner Troy Mills, who spends much of his day thinking about these types of things, believes that a few key off-season moves have tipped the balance away from the two-team domination the JHL has (boringly) played host to in the past.
This brings us to the second point about this season: Certainly one of the most disrupting acquisitions, in terms of making one team stronger, has been the Hawks’ pickup of goaltender Jake Melanson. Melanson is big, athletic and, for an 18-year-old, fairly experienced between the pipes.
But a solid netminder isn’t the only reason the Hawks look like the Vegas Golden Knights of the JHL. Like the Golden Knights, they’re made up of an Ontario-centric roster unknown to (and thereby underrated by) the majority of the league; they combine speed and slick passing to confound slower, one-dimensional teams; and they have the most fired-up fanbase in the JHL. In fact, their fan turnout might be the most impressive part of the Hawks’ game.
Unlike players on most JHL teams, who, if they’re lucky, recruit a handful of half-interested girlfriends to the final playoff game of the year (you heard it here first: Super Sunday is March 18), the Hawks roll with a posse of puckheads who will come to the arena at 9:45 p.m. on a Wednesday. Sure it helps that karaoke falls on the same night but regardless: these Hawks have chicks.
Part of what those fans most certainly are there to see was on full display when the Hawks surprised the Beavers on January 10 in an 8-5 dustup: part-way through the first frame, centreman Tanner McBurney’s helmet flung off during play to reveal his long, illustrious hair. Dude’s got killer flow. Of course,
when his lid was jarred loose for a second time on the very next shift there was some suspicion that he was doing it on purpose, but it should be noted that not one fan complained.
While the Hawks have been happy to have McBurney and his sweet lettuce back, they’ve also benefited from the strong play of defender Tyler Milanovik. Milanovik’s ability to move north in a hurry compliments the long reach of fellow d-man, the caged-wonder, Collin Booth. Booth, who needs to keep his grill in one piece so he can sell expensive bottles of wine in the evenings, is the epitome of the Hawks themselves: he’s young, plays hard and when he shakes his opponents’ hands in the post-game line-up, they have no idea who just beat them.