By Larry Moko
The St. Mary Crusaders high school hockey team isn’t taking anything for granted.
Even though there are 15 returnees on the boys’ roster from their OFSAA silver-medal-winning squad of 2016-17, the Crusaders know they can’t just go through the motions and expect to win.
St. Mary coach Jason Kokoski talked about his team’s attitude after it opened the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association schedule with a 4-1 victory over the Bishop Ryan Celtics at Coronation Arena Monday.
“Like in any sport, it doesn’t matter the level, if a lot of guys come back after having success the year before, there’s always a chance they can have a down year,” Kokoski said. “Either they’re burnt out or overconfident. They might think things are going to go the same way and they don’t have to put the work in.
“We talked to our guys about putting in the same amount of work as last year. Hopefully, we’ll have the same outcome. They’ve been focused pretty much since September.”
In a rematch between the two schools that faced each other for the HWCAA championship last season, the Crusaders pulled away with three unanswered goals in the third period.
Captain Andrew Hanaka paced the St. Mary attack with a goal and an assist. Other Crusader goals were shared by Justin Neiser, Matt Harrington and Justin Giordano.
Matthew Shulist, a Grade 9 student, broke goaltender Connor Ogg’s bid for a shutout with the lone goal of the second period.
“I thought we started a little slow,” Hanaka said. “As the game progressed we went into our roles and played well. We want to go into games with the mindset that we have to play up to our full potential every day.”
St. Mary needed triple overtime and a shootout in order to subdue the Celtics 3-2 in last year’s title contest.
“Both teams were absolutely excellent today,” Celtics coach Alex Coccia said. “The compete level was there. St. Mary took advantage of the chances they got. We made a few mistakes but it’s less about what we did wrong and more about what they did right.”
St. Mary is also using last year’s OFSAA gold-medal game as inspiration for this season. In that hard-hitting A/AA division contest, the Crusaders held a 2-1 with 78 seconds to play but yielded a power-play goal that forced a 10-minute sudden death overtime and a shootout.
“They were all kind of upset about how the final ended last year,” Kokoski said. “I think that motivated a lot of the guys to come back as a group and try to take another shot at it.”
Elsewhere in boys’ hockey, the St. Thomas More Knights defeated the Bishop Tonnos Titans, 5-1.
This weekend, St. Mary will travel to Niagara Falls for a tournament which includes American teams.
In opening-day hockey action for the girls, the Celtics got a goal with 3.7 seconds left to tie the Crusaders, 2-2. Bishop Ryan’s goals were shared by Samantha Preston and Mackenna Spraggon, while Shannon McDonald and Sydney Hiltz replied for St. Mary.
The other girls’ game saw the St. Thomas More Knights edge the defending champion Bishop Tonnos Titans, 3-2.