Blackhawks take O6 league championship

CHARLOTTE COUNTY – For the first time since 2019, the Original Six Hockey League (O6) has a new champion, in the form of the Blackhawks.

When the Geoff Cunningham started the O6 in 2017/18, it was to fill a gap.

“He saw a need for talented hockey players to have a place to play that aren’t quite yet ready (or old enough) to play in other leagues like the Rusty Blades Hockey League (RBHL),” said longtime area hockey player, and crowd favourite, Ricky Young.

“Those that aged out of Junior U18 or high school hockey.”

“The goal was to provide a stage for as many local players as possible to continue playing a competitive high level of non-contact hockey while renting as much ice as possible generating much needed revenue for our local facilities,” said Cunningham, who in addition to his role in the O6 league is the coach of the newest team on the block, the Game Time Irishmen who are part of the recently formed Southern Senior Hockey League. Of course, the names of the O6 teams are what one would expect; the original six NHL hockey teams.

Both leagues have experienced the stop/start that came with COVID-19 restrictions, now lifted in the province.

“We started our season on Oct. 17, 2021 and stopped on Dec. 12,” said Young of the O6.

“We then weren’t able to start back up until Feb. 1. The last game was played when we (Blackhawks) won the cup on Tuesday, March 22.

“The (O6) cup has resided at the Harbour Road Pub in Blacks since it was last awarded to the Bruins back in 2018/2019. Both the 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 seasons never got to finish due to COVID.

“My favourite aspect of the league is the skill and talent, but overall the mutual respect amongst the players who still like to compete hard against each other but understand everyone still needs to go to work the next day,” said Young.

“It’s a very fast clean league with very little penalties throughout each game.”

The O6 league itself is managed by the six team “leaders” Young says.

It’s Devan Moore for the Rangers, Jeremy Peters for the Bruins, Daniel Cunningham for the Red Wings, Mike Windsor for the Leafs, Matt Clark for the Canadiens, and Young for the Blackhawks. Matty Walsh of the Rangers handles the league scheduling and manages league fees while Young and Nelson Boone assign officials as well as timekeepers.

And the league isn’t just teammates, it’s made-up of old friends.

“Mitchell (Arseneau) and I both grew-up on the same road just a couple houses down from each other, as well as Jamie Bishop, another Blackhawks teammate and captain of the Irishmen,” said Young.

And while Arseneau now lives in Saint John, Young remains a St. Stephen resident, as does Bishop.

“I was fortunate enough to play with Mitchell at the same prep school in Cornwall, Ont. at the Ontario Hockey Academy or OHA,” said Young. “Then to playing three years with the (St. Stephen) Aces together.

“Now I’m playing senior hockey with him for the Irishmen as well at Blackhawks in the O6 league.”

And play Arseneau does. He was awarded the O6 league playoff MVP having had two goals, and two assists in game 1 of the finals, and three goals and two assists in game 2.

The O6 playoffs were played in a best of three rounds, where the Blackhawks eliminated the Canadiens in the first round in two straight games. The Blackhawks then played the Red Wings in the second round, which went for the full three games, with each game being lost by 1 point, scored routinely in the last 60 seconds of play. But game three went to the Blackhawks, winning 3 to 1 at the Garcelon Civic Center (GCC).

In the third and final round, the Blackhawks met the Rangers in Blacks Harbour on Feb. 15, taking game one with a score of 5 to 4.

Game two, which clinched the league win was at the GCC Feb. 22, where the Blackhawks took the tilt with a score of 7 to 4, adding two empty netters at the end, having been down 3 to 1 to the Rangers going into the third period.

But hockey fans don’t have to lament the season being over. Young is simply swapping his Blackhawks jersey for the Irishmen green and white, as the team hits the ice at the GCC this Saturday, April 2 for game two of the Southern Senior Hockey League semi-final series. Arseneau and Bishop will be on the ice in the Irishmen colours as well. Semi-final rounds are best of five and finals will be best of seven. Puck-drop is 7 p.m.