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Feeding The Beast

The Charleswood Hawks are hopelessly addicted to winning

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Deep in the heart of Charleswood -- tucked behind a junior high school and a curling club and taking up a small chunk of Eric Coy Arena -- lives this province's most dominant hockey dynasty.

Now, there is some evidence of the Charleswood Hawks' reign here, what with a number of championship banners on display at the north end of the rink.

But it's a collection that hardly details why or how this Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League squad has been so successful over the last couple of decades.

Just to bring you up to speed, the Hawks enter today's home game against the Stonewall Jets on a 13-game win streak and having started the regular season going 19 games without a regulation loss (17-0-2).

Consider this, too: the Hawks are pushing for their fifth consecutive championship and have won 13 titles in the past 19 years.

So what makes up the foundation of this dynasty?

Is it recruiting? Is it coaching? Scouting?

Turns out it's all of the above along with something less tangible, a combination of reputation and the monster that is all that success.

"It's not complicated," begins Hawks' forward Jesse Toth. "When guys come here they're here for one thing: to win. That's everyone's goal at the start of the year and anything other than that is not acceptable. You get used to winning. You expect to win.

"That's the beast we've built with the record we've had in the last five years. We don't ever want to lose a game because we're going to hear about. We have to feed the beast."

For the record, 'Feed the Beast' is not the Hawks' slogan, but it certainly fits. Their official motto, which jumps out on the club's website is:

"WE DON'T REBUILD, WE RELOAD."

So if you're looking for something else to explain the Hawks' reign other than the basics of hard work and preparation, move on, please.

They practice twice a week -- some MMJHL teams are only on the ice once, aside from games -- and scout their opponents and future stars and run their operation like a Canadian Hockey League outfit.

In short, this is a dynasty built entirely on sweat.

"People ask me all the time the same questions: 'Why is this happening?' And, 'Why do you guys continue to win?'" said Hawks' head coach Stephen George. "The players are part of it, but the organization has to take a lot of credit for that as well, in the sense that we've worked at being professional in our day-to-day operations and trying to run it like a Western Hockey League-type program.

"That really helps in terms of recruitment and attracting the higher-end players."

Before the cynics and critics dub the Hawks the New York Yankees of the MMJHL -- an operation that just grabs the best of the best in the free-agent market -- consider this: each organization in the 10-team loop has a catchment area from which it can recruit.

The Hawks' success makes them an attractive destination for players, no doubt, but they've also benefitted by drawing talent from some of the city's powerful high school programs in the area like Oak Park, St. Paul's, Kelvin and Westwood.

"The thing is, we still have to sell our program to those players once they have graduated from high school," said George. "And a lot of these players elect to come try out with the Charleswood Hawks versus going to play Junior A some place else."

Toth, who grew up in Gladstone, played for the Central Plains Capitals of the Manitoba Midget AAA league and then moved to Charleswood so he could continue his apprenticeship as an electrician, is one example.

And then there's Hawks captain Dillon Smith, who didn't have to be sold on the program at all. He grew up on Vanscoy Road in Charleswood and played two years of high school hockey at Oak Park.

"I grew up five minutes from here," said Smith, sitting just outside the Hawks' dressing room. "I came to games as a kid. I watched Stephen George, my head coach, when he was my age. So, I always thought this would be a fun place to play when I grew up.

"But now that I'm a part of it, I really believe we're successful because we're the hardest-working team in the league. We work hard at practice and it carries over to the games. That's contagious.

"Most of all, when you come here you know there's a standard you have to meet."

And here are the numbers behind that standard: Since the 2001-02 season the Hawks' won-lost-tied record is 404-52-28 for a winning percentage of .889.

That's not a misprint, folks.

What makes the Hawks so dominant? There's no magic formula other than victory loves preparation and success breeds success.

Feed the beast. Don't rebuild, reload.

"You know," adds Smith, "I remember the first time putting on that Hawks jersey... we have a saying here that a lot of teams use, 'You're not playing for the name on the back, it's the name on the front.'

"That's what we're all about."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 30, 2012 C3

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