Akwesasne - Mar. 27, 2011 - All too often, the community of Akwesasne ends up in the news for the wrong reasons.
On Saturday night, though, it was a different story. A good story.
The Warriors, Akwesasne’s pro hockey team, defeated the New York Aviators 5-2 at the A’nowara’ko:wa Arena on Cornwall Island to win the first-ever Federal Hockey League championship.
A chorus of horns and cheers filled the arena in the final minutes of the game as the 1,000-plus fans in attendance paid tribute to their soon-to-be champs.
Minutes later, after the customary team hug and handshakes, Warriors’ captain Pat Deraspe accepted the Commissioner’s Cup and hoisted it high over his head in celebration.
The game that preceded the celebration was typical Warriors hockey – skill and toughness.
Akwesasne took every opportunity to bash their opponents as they built a 2-0 lead on goals from Ahmed Mahfouz and Pierre Dagenais. Jesse Felten responded for the Aviators before Miguel restored the two-goal lead.
Still, the pesky A’s weren’t throwing in the towel. Michael Thomson scored with about 10 minutes left to make it 3-2, and there were some tense moments for Warriors fans as New York continued to press for the equalizer in the final minutes. But those fears were laid to rest as Dagenais and Martin Beaulne scored empty-netters in the final minute to seal the deal.
The win by Akwesasne represents a victory of sorts for the FHL as well. There were some challenges for the upstart league – one team relocated and the regular season scheduled was trimmed down – but in the end, the FHL reached the finish line, and that can be considered a success in its own right.
The Warriors had their ups and downs as well, with changes behind the bench and numerous changes to the roster throughout the season. Still, those who donned the Warriors jersey played with passion and a desire to win.
No player embodied those traits more than Mahfouz, a former junior hockey star with the Pembroke Lumber Kings who plays a physical brand of hockey that belies his 5’11’, 195-lb. frame.
Midway through Saturday’s game, Mahfouz was cursing himself and banging his stick off his helmet in frustration after missing a scoring chance. But Mahfouz’s frown later turned to a smile as he opened the path for Dagenais’ game-clinching empty net goal.
As the final buzzer sounded, Mahfouz hopped the boards and threw his gloves in the air en route to joining the celebration around goaltender David Plouffe.
It wasn’t the Stanley Cup, but judging from the reaction of Mahfouz and his teammates, it didn’t matter one bit.
The Warriors were crowned champions, and Akwesasne had some good news to celebrate.