Elliot Lake Jr. Bobcats win the NOHA Bantam B Tournament of Champions

The Elliot Lake Jr. Bobcats were the winners of the NOHA Bantam B Tournament of Champions last weekend in Little Current, but the second place Manitoulin Panthers were still all smiles as the two teams pose together for a group pictured concluding the tournament. photos by Robin Burridge

LITTLE CURRENT—It was a great weekend of hockey last week in Little Current with the Manitoulin Panthers hosting the Northern Ontario Hockey Association (NOHA) Bantam B Tournament of Champions. Though the Panthers lost the championship to the Bobcats in a tight championship game Sunday, friends, family and fans were on the edge of their seats throughout the weekend, enjoying some of the best hockey in the North.

Kelly Timmermans was the weekend’s master of ceremonies, entertaining the large crowd Friday night at the opening ceremonies. The event opened with a procession of the eight teams in the tournament including the Elliot Lake Jr. Bobcats, the Porcupine Jr. Gold Kings, Cochrane Blues, the Kirkland Lake GM City, the Sault Major Personal Touch Auto, West Nippissing A-1 Mats, Iroquois Falls and the Manitoulin Panthers.

“Welcome to all the teams and their families this weekend,” said Ms. Timmermans. “They say when you cross the swing bridge it changes your life forever.”

A First Nation traditional drum group honoured Manitoulin’s heritage, followed by Little Current’s Katie Harper singing the national anthem.

Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin also said a few words before the game got underway between Iroquois Falls and the Panthers.

“On behalf of the community, I would like to welcome all the players, coaches, family and fans,” said Mayor MacNevein. “I look forward to a great weekend of hockey. This tournament is also an opportunity for both yourselves and us to get to know each other. I would also like to thank the organizers for bringing this great event to our community. Thank you.”

The ceremonial puck drop was overseen by NHL legend Reggie ‘the rifle’ Leach, who took the opportunity to remind the tournament players how lucky they were.

“It is great to see all these hockey players,” said Mr. Leach. “You are so lucky because you get to play the best game in the world. This is the best time of your life! People say that hockey is dead, but I just see it getting strong and stronger. The game of hockey is very special. Welcome, and while you are here enjoy yourselves and do the best job you can do.”

The Manitoulin Panthers started the weekend off strong, beating Sault Major 13-1. In their next game against Iroquois Falls they kept their energy strong and powered out another win 6-3.

On Saturday morning, the Panthers continued their winning streak, crushing West Nipissing 6-3.

Sunday morning’s game was a little more of a challenge for the Panthers, but they still came out the winners 1-0 against Kirkland Lake.

The final championship game between the Elliot Lake Jr. Bobcats and the Panthers had everyone cheering loudly. The teams were head-to-head, tied at zero until the Panthers finally scored at the end of the second period. Moving into the third, the Panthers seemed like the obvious victors, but the Bobcats came back strong scoring three goals. Not even removing their goalie in the last minute could save the Panthers, as the Bobcats kept them busy defending their net.

Though the Panthers seemed disappointed as they skated off the ice, with hoots and hollers from the Bobcats as they threw their helmets and gloves on the ice in the background in triumph, the Panthers played the best they could and came in a respectable second in the North.

Little Current will also host the Midget B NOHA Tournament of Champions this upcoming weekend, Friday, March 14 to 16 at the recreation centre. The action will get underway with the Blind River Midgets versus the Cochrane Rush at 6 pm on Friday followed by the Manitoulin Panthers versus the Timmins Flyers at 8:20 pm.

All are invited to attend the opening ceremonies at 7:50 pm on Friday night.

Robin Burridge