The Third Team On The Ice
The Game Means Just As Much To This Team

When 9-year old Savanna Labelle went out to center ice to drop the puck for the official opening face-off on September 12, 2003, at the Little Current Howland Recreation Centre on Manitoulin Island in Northern Ontario, she was signaling the beginning of a new era in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League. It was the opening game of the season for two new clubs in the league and you could sense the excitement in the air well before game time.

As the two captains lined up for the puck drop, you can see part of the capacity crowd in the background. The official attendance announcement was 700, however, unofficial estimates pegged the number at closer to 1200. Fans were standing two and three deep wherever they could find a place to peek around heads and the stands were packed solid with no room to move. It was a great night and a great beginning to the season.

Savanna Labelle and her father, Dr. Tim Labelle, part owner of the Manitoulin Wild, had traveled nine-hours by car from Longlac for the game. By the time the final buzzer sounded to end the game, we are sure that Dr. Labelle felt the trip was well worth it. 



Everyone was aware that the Northern Michigan Black Bears, who call St. Ignace Michigan home, traveled over 3 and 1/2 hours by bus to the game. Many parents of the players followed by car. The Black Bears were anxious to get their season under way and you could see the intensity in their eyes as they waited in the lobby before heading out for the pre-game warm-up.
Even though the Manitoulin Wild were playing at home and had less distance to travel, they too were excited to be playing in their first ever game. They did not even have the benefit of an exhibition game. You could also sense the anticipation in their eyes as they waited for the warm-up to begin.


This, however, is a story about the "third team" on the ice that night. This is a team that traveled over 140 kilometers one way to take part in the game, and in some ways, it is the most important of all teams on the ice. This is a story about the officials.
Warren Kirwan, on the right, is shown here with Pierre Lacroix, on the left and Scott Ferguson in the middle. The three have just made the journey from Sudbury and are shown in the parking lot behind Warren's vehicle as they prepare to unload their equipment and enter the arena for what was undoubtedly a big game in their careers. Even though it was 75 minutes before game time when they pulled into the parking lot, many fans had already begun to arrive and both teams were inside getting prepared for the warm-ups. 

Upon entering the arena, the three officials brought their equipment into the referee room, which in this case was situated right in between the two team dressing rooms. As referee rooms go, this one was a good size and looked comfortable. Once the equipment was inside the room, Warren, Pierre and Scott took a few minutes to walk around the arena to loosen up after the long drive.


The Manitoulin Wild souvenirs and memorabilia were popular items during opening night. This was also the entry door for the 175 season ticket holders.

General admission was steady as soon as the doors opened one hour prior to game time. In fact, the game was sold out and many disappointed fans had to be turned away.

After spending ten or fifteen minutes walking around the lobby and getting a sense of the level of excitement in the building that night, the three officials returned to their dressing room to prepare for the game.

Officials for the Manitoulin Wild's home games, as well as the home games for the Rayside Balfour Sabrecats and the Sudbury Northern Wolves will all be coming from Sudbury during the 2003-2004 hockey season. For a 'road-trip' to Manitoulin Island, Warren Kirwan, who is entering his 2nd season as a referee in the league, was responsible for picking up the linesmen. His 'day' began at 4:00 p.m. and would end when he pulled back into his driveway in Valley East shortly after 1:00 a.m. - nine hours later. The three would stop in Espanola for a Tim Horton's muffin and cold drink on the way to the game and would take time for a well-deserved Subway sandwich in Espanola on the way home. This was the normal routine for a road trip to the "Island", but one could sense that this was a very historic game, and the officials felt honoured to play a major part in the evening.

Teams in the NOJHL must wait until the linesmen are on the ice before going out for any warm-up. So, both linesmen must be dressed and read to go 30 minutes prior to game-time. Here we see Scott, in the foreground, and Pierre, heading out for the important warm-up. By this time, the stands were filling up and it was estimated that over 500 were in the arena watching the two teams warm-up.
While all of this was going on, the 4th and 5th  "players" of the Third Team were busy doing their jobs. Lawrence Enosse, shown on the left, was the official scorekeeper for the game. He has been doing this job for the league for some time and is also a coach of the Manitoulin Panthers Midget AA club. It was Lawrence's job to make sure that all of the players were listed on the scoresheet prior to the game and then to keep track of statistics during the contest. On the right is the official timekeeper, Jermey Racicot, who was responsible for making sure that the game clock was functioning properly.


As is often the case with historical games such as this one, there were several matters to deal with prior to the game beginning. Some of these were captured on camera.

Manitoulin Wild's Board Chairman, Robert Beaudin welcomed the fans to the game and thanked them all for their support.

Rosa Pitawanakwat sang the Canadian National Anthem in Ojibway

Jeff Gilmour, a renowned recording artist from Spring Bay sung both the Canadian and American National Anthems.

The Manitoulin Wild patiently and respectfully listen to the anthems being sung

The Northern Michigan Black Bears listen patiently and respectfully to the anthems being sung.


The three officials are dwarfed by the crowd in the back ground as they prepare to listen patiently and respectfully to the anthems.



After all of the opening festivities were completed, it was time to get down to the reason everyone had come to the Howland Recreation Centre that night. 

Just 50 seconds after the puck was dropped, Northern Michigan stunned the home crowd with a goal by team Captain, Steve Kruzewski. 

Fortunately, the Wild settled down and the rest of the period was an exciting up and down contest with both sides having their chances. A penalty to the Wild's Steve Zwarich for holding at 16:34 proved costly as it lead to a power play goal by the Black Bear's Billy Griffore at the 18:48 mark. Just 23 seconds later, at 19:11, Kruzewski found the mark again and the Black Bears went into the intermission ahead 3 to 0, seemingly on their way to a blow-out.

The second period started out at a quick pace and the crowd erupted when Zwarich buried a shot at the 3:04 mark to record the first goal in Manitoulin Wild history. 

Ken May brought the home club to within one goal when he scored over four minutes later at the 7:38 mark. The home town fans were still buzzing when, just over a minute later, at 8:55, Chris Craft put the Black Bears back on top by two goals and that was how the period ended, with Northern Michigan up by a score of 4 to 2.

The third period was fast-paced and offered the fans plenty of action around  both ends of the rink. The Wild's Brad Pike brought the fans to their feet once again when he found the back of the net at the 15:42 mark, bringing the home club back to within one goal. The Wild pulled their goaltender during the final minute, but it backfired as Chris Craft potted his second goal of the night into the empty net for the insurance marker at 19:48. 

The game ended with the final score of 5 to 3 in favour of the Northern Michigan Black Bears. However, the big winners of the night were undoubtedly the Manitoulin Wild and their close to 1200 fans who went home completely satisfied with the effort. The Wild held their own, and except for a 23 second let-down in the first period, the outcome might have been different.

It was a good night for the "Third Team". Kirwan called 15 minor penalties on the Black Bears and 14 minor penalties on the Wild. The game was well managed and the players stuck to hockey all night long. Ferguson and Lacroix did an excellent job in their first game "without the red line" and were able to keep the game moving with quick face-offs. The comments from the fans were very positive and they appreciated the fact that they were treated to a well-officiated hockey game.

After a quick shower, the "Third Team" of Warren Kirwan, Scott Ferguson and Pierre Lacroix, packed their equipment, loaded up the car and began the 140 km journey home, satisfied with their effort, and anticipating the next time they would step on the ice once again as a member of the "Third Team".



As far as Junior A games go, this one will go in the books as a classic in just about every aspect. It was a well-played contest which included some excellent hockey by two very disciplined hockey clubs. The fans were fantastic, well-behaved and very appreciative of the entertainment provided by the two teams. All in all, it was as perfect a game as one could ever expect from this level and left all in attendance longing for the next outing.
Facts About The Game:
bulletIt was the first game in the league for both clubs;
bulletThe game was sold out. Unofficial attendance was 1200 in an arena which has a capacity of 700. Official attendance was announced as 700;
bulletThere were 8 goals scored in the game; with 3 in the 1st; 3 in the 2nd and 2 in the 3rd;
bulletOf the 8 goals, only one was on the power play;
bulletThe game was very close and was only decided with an empty net goal with 12 seconds remaining in the 3rd period;
bulletThe visiting team received 15 minor penalties for 30 minutes;
bulletThe home team received 14 minor penalties for 28 minutes;
bulletDespite the number of penalties there were very few full power plays. For example, there were seven sets of co-incidental penalties where each team was forced to put a player in the box, thus canceling out each other. There were three other pairs of penalties which were called within a minute of each other, thus taking away the power play advantage prematurely.
bulletThe winning team received one more penalty than the losing team;
bulletThe Northern Michigan Black Bears received 6 penalties in the 1st; 7 penalties in the 2nd; and 2 penalties in the 3rd;
bulletThe Manitoulin Wild received 4 penalties in the 1st; 7 penalties in the 2nd; and 3 penalties in the 3rd;
bulletThe Black Bears had 28 shots on goal while the Wild had 26 shots on goal; Each goalie made 23 saves during the game. Ethan Gazmik played goal for the Black Bears while Matt George was between the pipes for the Wild;
bulletThe game took 2 hours and 23 minutes to play;
bulletThe Black Bears won the 1st period; lost the 2nd period; and tied the 3rd period;
bulletThe Wild lost the 1st period; won the 2nd period; and tied the 3rd period;
bulletThe first star of the game was the Captain of the Northern Michigan Black Bears, Steve Kruzewski, who ended up with 2 goals and 1 assist;
bulletThe second star of the game was the Assistant Captain of the Northern Michigan Black Bears, Chris Craft, who ended up with 2 goals, including the winning goal and the empty net goal;
bulletThe third star of the game was from the Manitoulin Wild, Ken May, who ended up with one goal;
bulletOther scorers for the Northern Michigan Black Bears included: Billy Griffore (1 goal and 2 assists); Russell Law (3 assists); Aaron Hartner (2 assists); T. J. Jaranowski ( 1 assist); and Jeff Diehl (1 assist).
bulletOther scores for the Manitoulin Wild included: Steve Zwarich and Brad Pike with a goal each; Brent Assinewai, Eldon Cheechoo, Josh Bigras, Frank Desbiens and Aaron Assinewai, each with one assist.


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