This past weekend, the Niagara Ball Hockey Club hosted its 7th installment of the Gateway to the Worlds event. Teams winning this event earn themselves a paid entry into the 2019 World Outdoor Ball Hockey Championships in Barrie, ON this September. This year was by far the largest in terms of the number of teams, featuring a total of 32 teams split evenly between two divisions; Men’s B/C & Men’s D. For the most part, the weather cooperated with us all weekend, with very little rain and some scorching temperatures, rewarding teams who brought a deep bench. In a changing of the guard, which usually features strong performances from teams out of the Niagara region, or Barrie area, this tournament was dominated by Hamilton. Both finals features all teams from Hamilton, in the Outlaws, Haze, Hellfish and Vikings.
Starting with the Men’s B/C Division, we saw a familiar group of teams competing that are regulars in Ballhockey.com events. That list includes the Outlaws, Ducks, Haze & Lightning out of Hamilton; the Maple Kings & Blue Line Bandits out of Barrie; local teams Marvel, Bricksquad, Thunder & Hitmen, as well as the London Turtles & Orillia Rage. Newcomers to the event include a young Niagara North team (Quarter-Final exit), who if they can keep the team core in tact look likely to compete for a long time; the Hollywood Express (Quarter-Final exit); Orange Crush; and the South Side Bears.
Chrissy Morrison, the sultan, scores a shootout winner for Hollywood Express over Barrie Blue Line Bandits early Sunday.
Championship Sunday proved that any of the advancing teams had a legitimate shot at winning, with not a single game having a goal spread of more than two goals. Hollywood Express, Hamilton Ducks, Niagara Bricksquad & Niagara Falls Thunder took early morning wins against Blue Line Bandits, Orange Crush, Niagara Hitmen & Barrie Maplekings respectfully. The quarter-finals truly showed just how much the heat played a role, and how important earning that first-round bye with a top 4 round robin finish really was, with 3/4 teams with byes advancing in Haze, Marvel, Outlaws, with the lone outlier being Bricksquad with a 2-1 victory over Niagara North. Hamilton Haze went on to beat Bricksquad 4-2 in the first semi, and the Outlaws escaped with an overtime victory over Marvel setting up an all-Hamilton final between the top seeded Haze & the third seeded Outlaws. Congratulations to the Outlaws who pulled off a 3-1 victory to earn their spot in the WOBHC Championships with a paid entry. The Haze also earned a spot with a 1/2 paid entry for their incredible tournament run, falling just short in the final.
The Men’s D division is a relatively new concept to the Ballhockey.com events, with this Gateway Tournament having been the third offering of this division. Keeping pace with the Hamilton teams in the Men’s B/C division, the four Hamilton teams in Men’s D did not disappoint, with the Hellfish, Steel City Vikings, Knights, and Hawks all advancing to Sunday. Rounding out the field of teams for Sunday were the Ninja Turtles & Bucks, both of London, the Oshawa Northstars, Pickering Fresh Meat, and a handful of local teams in the Silverbacks, Flying Raccoons, Lions & Welland Rebels. The elimination games Sunday morning had no surprises with the only upset being that of the 9th seed North Stars taking out the 8th seed Welland Rebels. 5th seed Hamilton Knights defeated the 12th seed Hamilton Hawks 5-0; Niagara Flying Raccoon beat Pickering Fresh Meat 1-0; and the London Bucks edged the Niagara Lions 2-1 all to advance to the quarter-finals.
The quarter-finals matchups saw the well rested Hellfish, who hadn’t played since Saturday at 2pm, take out the Oshawa North Stars 4-2. Steel City Vikings, another well-rested team not playing since 6pm the night before defeated the London Bucks 3-0. The Flying Raccoons upset the Silverbacks in a Niagara matchup 5-2. Rounding out the quarter-finals, the Hamilton Knights, who were the early tournament favourites beat the London Ninja Turtles 8-4. Much like the Men’s B/C division, this left the field dominated by Hamilton teams with 3/4 remaining teams being from that area.
Both semi-final games were incredibly close coming right down to the wire. The Steel City Vikings were able to edge out the Hamilton Knights 2-1. In the other semi, the Hamilton Hellfish scored with just over 1 second left in the game to edge the Flying Raccoons 4-3. The Hellfish would go on the beat the Vikings in the final with a score of 3-1 earning themselves a paid entry to the largest event hosted by Ballhockey.com, the World Outdoor Ball Hockey Championships. Not leaving empty handed, the Steel City Vikings leave the tournament with their heads high and a 1/2 entry to the WOBHC event. This team has entered 2/3 Men’s D events with Ballhockey.com, both ended in 2nd place - perhaps the WOBHC Men’s D will be theirs for the taking.
Thank you to all participating players, coaches, teams & spectators for a great event. We look forward to seeing you in Barrie for the first installment of the World Outdoor Ball Hockey Championships.