CORNER BROOK If there was still any doubt as to which team currently rules the Corner Brook Molson Senior Men's Soccer League, the Health and Performance Physio Hawks erased it on Wednesday night.
The first-place Hawks defeated the second-ranked Steers Insurance Curling Rangers 3-2 at the Wellington Street Sports Complex, the second Hawks victory in as many games between the two rivals this season.
Matt Massie, Brandon Wall and Paul Prosper registered the goals for the victors.
Dennis Bellows and Chris Grant responded for the Rangers in the losing effort.
"In years gone by, they were the team to beat," said Hawks' Clarence Bennett. "This year, I think everybody knows we're the team to beat and that makes a big difference for us coming to the field with that swagger and confidence.
"They know they've got to beat us, we don't have to beat them."
In last year's championship game, the Hawks put an end to the Rangers' run of eight straight years on top. They're now starting to focus their attention on putting together their own string of titles.
But, according to Bennett, they still realize the road to that dynasty might still go through Curling.
"This was a totally different team than we'll see in the playoffs ... they'll be the same old Curling team — tough as nails and ready to play," he said. "Games against Curling during the season are like five warm-up games for the championship."
The Hawks are currently 2-0 in those "warm-up games," after dismantling a shorthanded Rangers squad to the tune of 5-1 back in May. Bennett figured that lopsided loss ensured a spirited rematch.
"Curling is a proud bunch of guys and nobody likes to get beat 5-1," he said. "We knew they were coming out gung-ho, ready to play, but everybody on our team looks forward to these games too, so both teams were up for it."
Even if neither team had a full roster, which is proving to be less of a problem for a deep team like the Hawks than others, perhaps. The winning goalie Wednesday night was Steve Hobbs, who usually spends his time burying shots into the net, not keeping them out.
"We've got confidence this year knowing we've got two guys that can play every position," Bennett said. "Everybody is capable of stepping in ... we don't have any weak links."
The Rangers succeed in one aspect of their game — keeping 11 men on the field this time around. It didn't produce a different result, but a closer margin of defeat.
"It was another typical Rangers-Hawks battle, right to the end," said Rangers' Cory Mosher. "We were up pressuring for the tying goal until the final whistle."
Sloppy play, especially turnovers, cost the Rangers dearly in a game they refused to let get away from them. It was certainly the closest the Hawks have come to seeing a legitimate threat to their unblemished record so far.
"A couple of goals were because of mistakes, giveaways we handed right to them," said Mosher. "We obviously didn't bring our best game. Next time we play them, we know it will be a battle again, but hopefully we can pull it out."
In the meantime, Mosher is willing to place the crown atop the collective heads of the Hawks for now as kings of the moment.
"It's pretty evident," he said. "They're undefeated, they won the Kick-Off Cup ... they're the team up there, but we're right behind them.
"When the season comes down to it, it's just one championship game," he added. "It doesn't really matter about the whole season then, it just all about that one game in late August."
At 8-0-0, the Hawks are well out in front of the pack, while the Rangers remain in second place at 5-2-0. The West Side Monarchs are third, at 3-4-1, with the CB Dominion Under-18s trailing them at 1-4-1. The Sorrento Tactics FC are 0-7-0.