The Akwesasne Warriors made a bit of history on Saturday night.
The minor professional squad won the inaugural Federal Hockey League championship series with a 5-2 victory against the visiting New York Aviators.
With that triumph, the Warriors, who play their home contests on the Ontario side of Akwesasne, a Mohawk community on the Canada/US border, won the best-of-five FHL final series in four games.
Akwesasne had won the first two matches in the series on the Aviators’ home ice the previous weekend in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Aviators then extended the series with a 6-3 victory in Akwesasne on Friday night. But the Warriors managed to rebound from that setback to claim the championship one day later.
Warriors’ president/general manager Basem Awwad was not surprised his team won the league title in its first year. “We pretty much had hand picked previous champions,” he said. “We picked our team from guys that knew how to win.”
Akwesasne’s roster included five Native players. They were Dan Tessier, who is Metis, and four Mohawks; Kyle Lagace, Casey Swamp, Travis Stacey and Nick Montour.
The Aviators’ lineup included just one Native player, captain KC Timmons, who is a member of the Camp Mudge tribe and is from Victoria, B.C.
Awwad said the Warriors faced some rather stiff opposition in claiming the FHL crown.
“We didn’t think it would be this hard,” he said. “We had a very tough time against the Aviators. They were a tough team and it was a very close series.”
Awwad was pleased his club was able to win the FHL championship at home. The Warriors had their biggest crowd of the season – 1,853 fans – show up for Game 3. About 1,000 fans were in attendance for the series clinching Game 4.
“I was told you could fit in about 2,200 fans,” Awwad said of the Warriors’ home rink, nicknamed the Turtle Dome. “But it was standing room only for Game 3. I think you can only fit in 1,853 people in there.”
The Warriors averaged about 600 fans per game this season. Awwad said about 800 supporters per outing were required for the franchise to break even.
“We’re in a bit of a loss,” he said. “But it makes it all worthwhile when you win a championship.” Awwad is confident his club will continue to play out of Akwesasne next season. “Nothing is 100 per cent certain,” he said. “But I’d say there’s a 99 per cent chance we’d be back in Akwesasne.”
The Warriors did play one regular season contest in neighboring Cornwall this season. That match attracted about 1,500 spectators.
Awwad said the Warriors will also probably play one or two of their regular season matches in Cornwall next season. And he believes the team might also play perhaps a couple of its home games across the border, in Massena, N.Y.
The FHL featured six franchises during its first year. The Warriors were the lone Canadian entry. There were a total of four clubs in the state of New York and one from Connecticut.
The league has already announced a pair of expansion franchises for next season, one in Illinois and one in Vermont.
Awwad believes two other additional expansion clubs might also soon be announced.