George Burnett atoms win International 'A' Silver Stick

Tillsonburg George Burnett atom reps celebrate their Atom A International Silver Stick hockey championship in Sarnia. Coaching staff in the back row from left: David Gradish (Assistant Coach), Derek Dodsley (Trainer), Landon Partlo (Assistant Coach), Greg Mitchell (Head Coach). Middle Row: Landon Dodsley, Richard Heleniak, Brenner Lammens, Gavin Balazs, David Lamers, Chayton Baird. Front Row: Jack Bruder, Drew Hunter, Jaxon Craggs, Hunter Whittington, Clarke Lessif, Zander Breddy, and Kypton Lofthouse. (SilverPeak Studios of Canada photo) jpg, TN

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The Tillsonburg George Burnett Ltd. atom reps added another jewel to their hockey ‘crowns’ when they won the International Atom A Silver Stick hockey tournament in Sarnia.

It’s been a phenomenal season so far – and it’s far from done.

Back in September George Burnett atom coach Greg Mitchell said they expected to have a good atom rep season, but still undefeated – in January – that was unexpected.

“I was expecting to have a good team, win some games and have some fun,” said Mitchell. “Nobody could have dreamed of the season that we’re having. We’re writing a book – I don’t think any team has ever done what we’re doing.

“We play exhibition games against London AA… and we beat them. We bring them in to beat us so we can ground-level ourselves – and the kids just find a way to win.

“We have a big group (of atoms) in Tillsonburg and a good group. It was tough to make the atom rep team, but our (Morse Electric) Atom AE team is good too. They’ve lost the odd game, but they are dominating as well. I think they’re going to make a good run in the playoffs…”

Mitchell praises the atom rep team’s work ethic and character. They have scored double digits against Southern Counties opponents more than 15 times this year, so far, but always with respect.

“We’re doing really well,” said Mitchell. “The thing about these kids here, they are 10 year olds but they act like they’re 15. They listen to the coaches, they listen to what we have to say. They respect the other teams. We’re not having them stop playing hockey – we let them play hockey. We’re getting lots of goals,” said Mitchell after a 10-1 Southern Counties win over Caledonia on Jan. 22, “but we’re respectful, we’re not cheering after goal No. 3. They score, they line up, they’re very respectful kids. They’ve got one focus, one vision, and that’s to play hockey and have fun. Obviously winning is a lot more fun than losing, but they are humble. They are very humble about it, they’re not disrespectful by any means.”

The atoms played in a nine-team Sudbury Atom A Regional Silver Stick, Dec. 5-8, where they won five games to reach the finals (Castle Peak 8-1, Porcupine Gold Kings 7-2, Copper Cliff Reds 9-1, Nickel City Coyotes 7-0 and Sault Storm 5-1), then defeated Nickel City 2-1 to clinch the Sudbury Atom A championship.

“Then we went to the Pelham Regional over the Christmas holidays – that’s our region,” said Mitchell, recalling the Dec. 27-29 eight-team Pelham Regional Silver Tournament where they had four shutouts in six victories.

“In order to get competition we went in a second Regional Silver Stick qualifier – and that was Sudbury,” said Mitchell. “We did (Sudbury) to get competition, not to qualify. They ended up taking the second place team from both tournaments (Sudbury and Pelham) to the International.”

At the International Silver Stick tournament in Sarnia, Jan. 17-19, which had a lineup of 16 teams, the George Burnett atoms defeated Owen Sound 8-2, Mt. Clemens (Michigan) 8-0, Capitals Academy (Virginia) 8-1, King Rebellion 6-0 and Orillia Terriers 4-1 to reach the Jan. 19 finals against Omaha Jr. Mavs (Nebraska).

“It started Friday morning and finished Sunday, playing two games each day.”

Extreme winter weather on the weekend made travelling to the tournament a challenge.

“You couldn’t see anything but tail-lights getting to the tournament – but we made it.”

The International final is where it got really intense for the Tornadoes.

Tillsonburg took an early 2-0 lead and seemed to have a victory in sight.

“Then we hit a crossbar and they went down and scored – that made it 2-1. Then they tied it up 2-2, then got a penalty shot against us and made it 3-2.”

The Tornadoes evened the score at 3-3, fell behind 4-3, scored again to knot it at 4-4. Omaha went up 5-4.

“They scored two short-handed goals against us and the penalty shot,” Mitchell noted.

Trailing 5-4 with three minutes left to play, the Tornadoes received a two-minute penalty

“At 1:30 to go, they were still winning, but (Omaha) took a took a penalty so it was four-on-four.”

Tillsonburg pulled the goalie to get a five-on-four advantage, then tied it with about 58 seconds left. In three-on-three overtime, the Tornadoes scored early to take the 2020 International Atom A Silver Stick.

It was their 51st victory of the season.

“It was insane, closest game we’ve been in all year,” said Mitchell. “That team from Omaha Nebraska was just a great, great hockey team – a really good hockey team – and almost handed us our first loss of the season.

“The best thing about our team is that when a team’s forwards finally do get past our defence and get to our goalies, we’ve got good goalies. Typically a team will have a front end, a back end, or they’ll just have a good goalie. Orillia for example had a great goalie – you just keep telling the kids ‘the more shots, the more opportunity.’ You can outshoot a team 60-4 and only score four goals – that goalie stood on his head.”

In OMHA BB playdowns against Caledonia, Tillsonburg swept the early January six-point first-round series winning 7-0, 8-0 and 8-1.

“We’re still playing Southern Counties and we’re waiting for the (OMHA BB) winner of Mt. Brydges, St. Marys and Dorchester.”

Mt. Brydges eliminated St. Marys and will play a six-point Shamrock series between Jan. 28-Feb. 9. The winner of that series will face Tillsonburg in the quarter-finals, and the winner moves on to semifinals against a Niagara region team. Finals will be played against the OMHA BB North East region (Huntsville, Muskoka area).

With a 54-0 record going into Wellesley (Southern Counties) on Thursday, the team expectation is to continue winning. But it’s something the George Burnett Ltd. coaches have talked to the players about – that someday, it might end. And they have brought in teams with that in mind.

“We talk about it pre-game with the kids. We have a target on our back, every team is out there to take us down. We’re undefeated… and it’s going to happen. We explain to the kids, ‘we’re going to lose, we have to be good losers when the time comes.’ But the kids just find a way to keep winning. They want to win, but we talk about losing just as much as we talk about winning so they’re prepared for it.”

The work ethic, said Mitchell, has been impressive.

“They’ve worked all year – we’re practicing an hour-and-a-half of ice every week, sometimes three hours. We never turn down ice – any time there’s ice (available), we take it. The kids want to practice, they want to learn, they want to win. As coaches – Dave (Gradish) and I and Landon (Partlo), and Derek Dodsley (trainer) – it’s volunteer coaching – if the kids want ice we’ll take it.”

Last year, the atom team was coached by Mitchell and Gradish with TJ Balazs as trainer.

“I think we had seven kids returning from last year,” said Mitchell. “We won the Northumberland Regional qualifier last year, but we didn’t win the International last year. We got stuck in a tough division. We got beat by Long Island who ended up winning. We battled with them – we had them 3-0 at one point – but they came back and beat us and ended up winning the tournament.”