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.
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.
ANTICIPATION AND EXCITEMENT
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
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.
THE THIRD TEAM ARRIVES
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
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
Rosa Pitawanakwat sang the Canadian National Anthem
Jeff Gilmour, a renowned recording artist from
Spring Bay sung both the Canadian and American National
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.
AND LET THE GAME BEGIN
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,
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
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:
It was the first game in the league for both clubs;
The game was sold out.
Unofficial attendance was 1200 in an arena which has a capacity of 700.
Official attendance was announced as 700;
There were 8 goals scored in the game; with 3 in the 1st; 3 in the
2nd and 2 in the 3rd;
Of the 8 goals, only one was on the power play;
The game was very close and was only decided with an empty net goal
with 12 seconds remaining in the 3rd period;
The visiting team received 15 minor penalties for 30 minutes;
The home team received 14 minor penalties for 28 minutes;
Despite 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
The winning team received one more penalty than the losing team;
The Northern Michigan Black Bears received 6 penalties in the 1st; 7
penalties in the 2nd; and 2 penalties in the 3rd;
The Manitoulin Wild received 4 penalties in the 1st; 7 penalties in
the 2nd; and 3 penalties in the 3rd;
The 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 game took 2 hours and 23 minutes to play;
The Black Bears won the 1st period; lost the 2nd period; and tied
the 3rd period;
The Wild lost the 1st period; won the 2nd period; and tied the 3rd
The 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;
The 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;
The third star of the game was from the Manitoulin Wild, Ken May,
who ended up with one goal;
Other 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
Other 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.