Barry’s Bay – The 2023 Opeongo Heritage Cup multicultural hockey tournament made a very successful return over the weekend, capped off with a thrilling overtime final in the open division where the German Black Eagles edged the Kashubian Griffins 3-2. 

The Germans posted a perfect 3-0 record in the round-robin to seal their birth in the final, while the Griffins went 2-1 in the round-robin, their only loss being a 5-2 defeat by the Germans.

The defending champion Irish Shamrocks were winless, going 0-3, while the Algonquin Thunderbirds posted a 1-2 record.

In the championship game, the Germans trailed the Kashubs 2-1 until late in the third period when they tied the game with 1:20 left in regulation time to force sudden-death overtime.

Robbie Lepine was the hero for the Germans, scoring the OT winner at the 7:41 mark.

Lepine had staked the Black Eagles to a 1-0 lead at the 11:16 mark of the first period on what proved to be the only goal of the period. Russell Summers was credited with the lone assist on the goal.     

The Griffins tied the score at the 7:57 mark of period two, with Zack Luckasavitch finding the twine behind Tyler Kauffeldt in the German net. Ethan Yantha and Jackson Voldock had the helpers. The Kashubs took their first lead of the game just over a minute later on a Jack Shulist tally, with Voldock earning another assist.

That lead held up until the final 80 seconds of the third period when Justin Felhaber buried a Dante Hoffman pass behind Richard Barr to tie the score at two and force OT.

The Kashubs had a brief, 36-second power-play in the overtime with Tyler Kauffeldt making a game-saving stop to keep the Black Eagles alive. The Griffins then took a penalty and the teams  were playing 4-on-4 when the winning goal was scored.

The penalty resulted in a face-off in the Kashub zone and a scramble ensued off the puck drop.  Lucas Gonu of the Black Eagles kicked the puck to Lepine, who one-timed it top-shelf past Barr for the win.

Women’s Team Also Win

The team’s win in the open division gave the Black Eagles double bragging rights as the women’s team captured the Opeongo Heritage Trophy in the previous game, clinching the title with a 4-0 win, also over the Kashubs.

The Black Eagles had shut-out the Griffins 1-0 in round-robin play and Madison Samms recorded her second shut-out in the championship win.

Lily Zadow staked the Germans to a 1-0 lead in the first period, with Courtney Pilgrim and Ava Zadow earning the helpers. Ava Zadow stretched the lead to 2-0 early in the second, with Layne Jessup and Robyn Sunners drawing assists.

Hannah Summers made it 2-0 late in the period, off a Kaylie Welk feed. Welk rounded out the scoring with an unassisted goal to make the final 4-0.

The Opeongo Heritage Bowl, presented to the top team in the gentlemen’s division, went to the defending champion, Irish Shamrocks with their 6-1 win over the Kashubian Griffins in the 30-plus game on Sunday.

The two teams went into the game having split the two previous games on the weekend, the Irish winning the 50-plus game 5-2, with the Germans answering with a 2-1 win in the 40-plus contest to force the deciding game Sunday.

Tim Lemoyre led the Irish offence in their win with the hat-trick, including the opening goal in the first period. Johnnie Shulist tied the game for the Kashubs four minutes later. But it was all Irish after that. Dane O’Reilly and Lemoyre made it 3-1 after the first and Jesse Lepine, Lemoyre and Tim Ronholm found the twine in the second for the win.

Front row, from the left: Bridget Zadow, Ava Zadow, Madison Samms, Robyn Summers, Kaylie Welk and Layne Jessup; Middle row: Lily Zadow, Ruby Selle, Maggie Hartwig, Katelyn Kuehl, Maddy Gienow, Mackenzie Summers, Hannah Summers, Kaylie Kuehl, Sam Tomasini, Taliya Hildebrandt and Cortney Pilgrim; Back row, left to right: Jeff Kuehl, Chummy Gienow, Buck Kuehl and Michelle Jessup.

Huge Success

Tournament founder and commissioner, David Shulist (a.ka. Johnny Kashub) was delighted with the success of the weekend.

“I am very pleased with the return of Opeongo Heritage Cup,” he said.  “It was a great success in many ways.

“Everyone had fun celebrating their ancestral heritage through the game of hockey,” he added.

Mr. Shulist said everyone obviously enjoyed the high level of hockey that was exhibited and meeting with family and friends they have not seen since the last event in 2019.

“Congratulations to the German nation for winning the Opeongo Heritage Cup and Trophy and the Irish nation for winning the Opeongo Heritage Bowl,” he remarked. “Cheers to the Algonquin and Kashub nations for competing hard and promoting their culture and identity at this year’s event.

“As a Kashubian Canadian who created this event and a descendant of the Kashub nation, I felt very proud of our Griffin teams,” he added. “Although they did not win any hardware, they won the hearts of many.”

He explained the men’s open team and the women’s team are first generation Kashubian-Canadian. They were born knowing they were Kashubs, of Kashubian heritage and that Kashubia is the homeland of their ancestors in Europe.

“Their parents and grandparents were born not knowing their true Slavic identity until later in their life,” he said. “Their great grandparents died and left this earth not knowing their true national identity of their ancestors in Europe. They were living under a false identity, victims of identity theft.

“Our young teams lost their games, but they won respect. For the first time, the fans of the Algonquins, Irish and German nations recognized that the Kashubs are a nation with their own identity. Who would have thought someone could discover their heritage through the game of hockey. Hockey is our vehicle and diversity is our fuel.

“Thank you to all the fans, volunteers, sponsors and media for making our 2023 Opeongo Heritage Cup event a great success.

Mr. Shulist said the on-ice officiating was excellent and there were no complaints. Attendance was up from previous years, which was a very pleasant surprise after missing the past three years due to COVID.

“We weren’t sure the people were going to come back out because of COVID. There’s still that fear. But they were ready to come out.

“I guess the final numbers will tell us for sure, but the people at the front said it was totally amazing.”

He said the Paul J. Yakabuski Community Centre was full all weekend, kicking off with the tribute to the late Carl Lacombe, of Killaloe, the longtime Director of Hockey Operations for the tournament, and the Algonquin Thunderbirds tribute to NHL and Aboriginal legend, the late Gino Odjik.

“It brought a lot of tears for the people who knew Carl and the Lacombe family did a fantastic job with some words that really touched everybody’s hearts. We had to honour Carl because he was there from day one and it was an honour to raise that banner.

“And when those drums start beating and the Algonquins paid tribute to one of their heroes, it was very touching,” he added. “What’s important here also, as far as the Algonquins go, is we need to recognize we are playing on Algonquin Native land. So that was very special for our event.”

Mr. Shulist said the level of hockey was “unbelievable” all weekend.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen hockey like that for a long time. I know the Griffins are really young and fast, but the Germans are so smart with the puck . . . it went into sudden-death overtime, that’s how close it was.

“That was a treat for everyone,” he continued. “All the games were relatively close and the caliber of play was unbelievable.”

Mix of Old and New

Chris (Chummy) Gienow, head coach of both the German open and women’s teams, credited their success to having the necessary blend of veterans and new recruits on the ice.

“You never know what you’re going to get Friday night in that first game,” he said of the open division. “We had seven first timers and our veteran group led by Robbie Lepine and Lucas Gonu . . . having those guys out there at the right time with Ryan Lepine and Russell Summers.

“It was an unbelievable mix of veterans and youth that you need in that tournament every year,” he added.

In their opening win over the Kashubs in the round-robin, he realized the Kashubs were likely the youngest and fastest team in the tournament, so knowing that he set up a strategy for the Black Eagles in the final.

“Their speed really brought it to us, so I just told the guys to be patient,” he explained. “Just weather the storm in the first period and the plan worked. It took us up until the final minute and 20 seconds to finally tie the game, so some of the boys were starting to get anxious.

“But I told the boys to stick with it,” he added.

He said the team got off the plan a little in the first period by taking a couple of penalties, but they returned to being one of the most disciplined teams he has ever coached in the tournament.

He credited goalie Tyler Kauffeldt for being one of the big keys to their success.

“It doesn’t matter where you play, you have to have the best goaltending, and he gave us that all weekend.”    

Mr. Gienow said the level of play in the open category was as good as it had always been, adding both the Black Eagles and Griffins had a lot of new players in the line-ups this year.

“The Germans had seven young lads in their first Heritage Cup, so there was a lot of turnover. The Kashubs, too, were the youngest team there.”

He said the quality of the play in the ladies’ division continues to improve and impress the crowd each year. He cited one example of a young woman, Ruby Selle, of the German Black Eagles who dove in front of a hard one-timer by Irish Shamrocks player Avery Foy.

“Ruby came flying out and blocked the shot with her pads and Avery can fire it like a young man,” he recalled. “The women’s calibre every year just gets better and better.”

Mr. Gienow, a personal friend of the late Mr. Lacombe, said the tribute Friday was very well done.

“Carl was a guy I looked up to hockey-wise for his coaching and management skills too,” he remarked.

He concluded by noting it was just amazing to see the whole crowd back, adding it was just an unbelievable weekend.

Round-Robin Results

Open Division: Kashubs 2 – Algonquins 1;  Germans 6 – Irish 3; Germans 5 – Kashubs 2; Algonquins 7 – Irish 6; Kashubs 4 – Irish 2; Germans 6 – Algonquins 3.   

Womens Division: – Germans 1 – Kashubs 0; Kashubs 1 – Irish 0; Irish 2 – Germans 1      

Gentlemen’s Division: 50-plus Irish 5 – Kashubs 2; 40-plus Kashubs 2 – Irish 1; 30-plus Irish 6 – Kashubs 1.