It’s become almost as reliable as Christmas falling on Dec. 25. Look to the top of the MMJHL standings and you’ll find the Charleswood Hawks sitting in their usual perch.
The Hawks have won nine of the last 11 championships — including the last four — and are once again the class of the league this season. Their only two losses in 19 outings came in overtime to the Fort Garry/Fort Rouge Twins and St. Boniface Riels, and three of the top 10 scorers in the league play for Charleswood.
All this comes despite losing a significant chunk of their roster from a year ago.
Head coach Stephen George said the club rarely misses a beat because of the talent and attitude of the players who join the fold each fall.
"We’ve replace well over half the team from last year," he said. "We’ve been fortunate to have good players come in. They really just bought into our systems and what we’re trying to accomplish as a team."
For starters, the Hawks draw most of their recruits from some of the top high school programs in the city: Oak Park, St. Paul’s, Kelvin and Westwood.
The trick is convincing a group of players who are used to playing starring roles that they need to contribute to their new team in different ways.
"We seem to have no issues with players having a problem with that," George said. "They accept whatever role is given to them. A lot of top players want to come and play for our team, and they come with the right attitude."
George said the team’s veteran leaders deserve as much credit for easing the transition as the coaching staff. Players who have been a part of the Hawks organization know that the system works, and aren’t shy about passing their knowledge down to the rookies.
"We just try to tell them that it’s not as easy as they think," said captain Dillon Smith, a fourth-year defenceman from Charleswood. "We have the record we do for a reason. They know what they’re getting into beforehand. It’s well-known that coaches and players ask a lot of the new players."
On the ice, the Hawks have transitioned from a team rich in defensive depth to one with an abundance of forward talent. Twelve players are averaging more than half a point a game.
The defensive zone is far from an afterthought. The Hawks have allowed a league-low 29 goals, in large part because their opponents rarely have the puck.
To stay sharp, the team will sometimes engage in mind games with itself. For instance, the Hawks might go into a period pretending that they’re trailing in the deciding game of a playoff series.
George said there’s no additional pressure on the team to win a fifth straight title. But no one wants to be part of a Hawks team that doesn’t finish the season with the trophy.
"It isn’t any extra pressure from the organization or the staff," George said. "We’re not looking ahead."