By Larry Moko
Two Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic league teams will be vying for separate Ontario boys’ high school hockey championships next week.
The Bishop Ryan Celtics have punched their ticket at the AAA level to the 16-team OFSAA tournament which runs from March 21-23 in Windsor.
And in St. Catharines – during that same time – the St. Mary Crusaders will be one of 16 teams going for gold in the A/AA category.
First-place Bishop Ryan won the Hamilton-Wentworth title with a 7-3 victory over second-place St. Mary in the final at Mountain Arena on Feb. 22. The Celtics then earned their OFSAA berth with a 3-1 decision over Milton’s Bishop Reding Royals in a Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference final.
The Celtics have an overall record of 11-1-1 and are ranked 12th. They’re in a pool with the top-seeded Brother Andre Cardinals of York, Kingston’s Holy Cross Crusaders and the Orangeville Bears.
“Our boys’ varsity hockey team has never made it to OFSAA before,” Celtics coach Justin Cannon said with excitement. “This is the first time in school history.”
According to Cannon, BR has found itself in a very tough grouping with the No. 1, 7 and 14-ranked teams.
“After we saw the rankings and our pool,” he said, “we told our players that if you want to be the best you have to beat the best. Simple as that.”
Cannon says his team features a lot of depth and balanced scoring.
“It showed throughout our season as we rolled many different players in and out of the lineup and were still successful,” he said.
“Our defence has really stepped up their game over the second half of the season, especially in the last two championship games.”
Cannon says the Celtics biggest strength is team cohesiveness.
“These guys work like a unit,” he said. “They don’t get down on themselves or each other. They are constantly lifting each other up, taking the blame for mistakes as a team and winning as a team.”
As for St. Mary, the west-Hamilton school is no stranger to recent OFSAA competition. Prior to the pandemic which cancelled three straight provincial championships, the Crusaders took part in A/AA showcase tournaments in Fort Frances (silver medal), Collingwood and Ottawa.
“This is our fourth time back in the last five seasons, not counting the cancelled years,” St. Mary coach Jason Kokoski said. “So we know first-hand how good the teams are and how close the games can be. While everyone gets a seed, anyone can beat anyone in the tournament because all the teams are similar in skill.”
The Crusaders are seeded No. 6. Their pool includes Ottawa’s Immaculata Saints, the host Denis Morris Reds and the King City Lions.
“Our ranking is right about where I thought we might be for seeding. There are a lot of good teams in this tournament from all over Ontario, many having won their own leagues this year. So we expect each game to be tough.
“We won GHAC in 2020 just before the March break when everything shut down and it was cancelled that year. We hope to use our speed to our advantage. It’s definitely our biggest strength. Should be a great experience for the guys.”
All A/AA games are at Seymour-Hannah Sports and Entertainment Centre.