By Jackie Loson | 10/16/13 11:30 AM
9:35 stood between a loss and a possible championship for the Hamilton Nationals, who led 12-10 in the final quarter of play in this season's Championship Weekend semi-final. The Nationals lost the game, and headed back to Hamilton, Ontario with an overall 9-6 record and an empty seat previously reserved for a Steinfeld Trophy.
Despite some unfulfilled goals and frustrations, the Nationals put together their best season since re-branding the '09 Toronto Nationals into the present day Hamilton Nationals. They started the season a fiery 5-0, the best start in team history, and added four more wins down the stretch to post a team-record nine wins this year. The team finished 2013 with a regular season 9-5 record, tied for second place in League standings, and the eventual three seed at Championship Weekend.
After the Nationals' record start, the group floundered for the remainder of the year, posting a 4-5 record and entering playoffs on a two game skid. Four of their wins came by a single point, and the team never quite flowed like they did in the first five weeks.
Sound players at all ends is what made this team effective. With arguably the best team offense, Hamilton boasted a League-leading 61 percent of assisted goals, the two top assist leaders, and the eventual MVP and Offensive Player of the Year, Kevin Crowley. The first quarter told the tale for the Nationals who were 6-2 when scoring first, 7-1 when leading after one, and 0-4 when trailing.
Though they have some top veteran talent, the youth of this club pushed them through. Defensemen Tucker Durkin and Jason Noble proved to be effective components on the back end. Garrett Thul gave them power, and first year player Kevin Cunningham electrified the offense. Scoring leader Crowley matched his goal totals from the previous two seasons, and showed absolute moments of dominance.
Coach Huntley's club and its future look very bright, as this season proved to be a complete turnaround from last year's 4-10 performance. With the addition of several stand-out rookies, and the evolvement of big name finishers, the orange and purple should continue to be a force in 2014.