Two weeks to the day after George Brown College's extramural men's hockey team won the Humber Invitational, the team will be tasked with winning it all once again, only this time at their own Helder Cup Invitational.
George Brown comes battle tested, after Humber's tournament served as quite the proving ground both on the ice and between the ears. Through five games played, the Huskies sported a perfect 5-0 record, and it was at the Humber Invitational that these Huskies showed both dominance and the ability to persevere through adversity.
Right off the bat, George Brown kicked off their tournament with a 3-2 shootout victory against Humber Lakeshore, an emotional game where they remained composed when it mattered.
"After the first game of the tournament, I told them I was impressed with their composure for the first time ever," Huskies head coach Jack Malone said with a laugh. "And for the most part, they kept that cool throughout the tournament. A couple of guys who are normally in the penalty box prevailed as leaders."
Game two saw GBC face some early hardship, with Wilfred Laurier Brantford hemming the Huskies in their own zone. The result was a 1-0 deficit heading into the second period, the only time the entire tournament that George Brown would trail, and the single instance where their play seemed adrift. From there, the Huskies flipped the script on Laurier, definitively winning the possession battle on the way to a 4-3 victory.
"We fought hard for the puck, went in deep and started scoring goals," said Dominik Gibowicz, who opened the scoring for George Brown. "I think we have a better team than last year, we're deeper, and I hope we can keep this up."
The Huskies would follow that W up with an even more convincing 7-2 quarter-final victory against Lakehead Orillia, leading to a semi-final showdown against Humber North.
Emotions ran high, and the atmosphere was that of a finals match-up, with each team respecting the lethality of the other. George Brown's penalty killing units proved their mettle, dumping the puck out of the zone and disrupting Humber's set-up with aplomb.
After regulation settled nothing, the teams, still square at 0-0, buckled down for a dramatic shootout finish. Huskies goaltender Matthew Morley, who had had a strong game and tournament to that point, refused to allow anything by him. The veteran backstop thwarted all three Hawks shooters, while Jordan Vetro scored on George Brown's second attempt to book the team's trip to the finals.
"The whole team's pulling together here," Morley said after the 1-0 victory. "We're getting stronger and stronger every game, that's what we like to see and hopefully we carry that momentum to the next one."
Slaying the dragon of Humber North would have made for a storybook finish, except there was still one more game to play. The potential was there for the Huskies' semi-final win to be an emotional climax, but to George Brown's credit, they went into the championship game vs. UTSC ready to play.
Their opponents were waiting for them with a hard, gritty affair, and the Huskies' PK units had to put in some extra work before the tournament was through. But George Brown's overall talent and willingness to go hard to the net, coupled with another unbeatable performance from Morley, eventually led to a 2-0 victory.
Winning this year's tournament was extra sweet for veterans of the squad, after George Brown lost in the finals to Humber at last year's iteration.
"It's huge," Lucas Latina, who scored the golden goal for GBC, said of winning the tourney. "This is my second year on the team and I know what it's like to lose to Humber, especially in their tournament. But I know the older guys too, this has been four years for some of them where they've been losing to Humber so it's definitely huge, it's a great feeling and we're just glad everything worked out in the end."
In consummate hockey player form, Latina was quick to credit his linemates for setting up the goal, and he was equally enthusiastic about the job Morley did between the pipes.
"One word for that: unbelievable," Lucas said. "Without him we wouldn't be where we are now. He was stellar in net every single game he played, and we for sure needed him. It was great."
Lucas wasn't the only one shining a spotlight on Morley's performance, with Malone also beaming about his goaltender.
"Same tournament, slightly different group from last year," reflected Malone. "I feel like we added to our team and we were better for the additions that we've made. Our goalie stood on his head, no goals in the semis and finals, you can't ask any more from a goalie. It feels really good to beat both the Humber teams at their own tournament."
Two weeks later, and George Brown now finds itself hosting the Helder Cup Invitational. The field of eight includes Centennial, Georgian Barrie, Trent, Redeemer, McMaster, St. Lawrence Brockville and of course, Humber North.
After losing at their own tournament, Humber North will undoubtedly look to do the same to George Brown. The Huskies have their own motivation however, remembering how the Hawks defeated GBC in last year's Helder Cup finals. And with the wind in their sails following the Humber Invitational, George Brown heads into Leaside Memorial Gardens Arena ready to win.
"There's no wrong that can be done with the excitement of this tournament," Malone said. "I think come George Brown, we're going to really have things firing."
Coverage begins at 7:45 a.m., as George Brown takes on Centennial at the Leaside Memorial Gardens Arena. Follow @GBC_Huskies on Twitter for updates throughout the tournament!