By Larry Moko
The St. Mary Crusaders have a new look for the 2018-19 Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic boys’ high school hockey season.
Two-time defending league champions, the Crusaders advanced to OFSAA tournaments on each of those occasions thanks to a lineup loaded with senior players.
That element of experience earned St. Mary a provincial AA silver medal in 2016-17.
“It’s a rebuilding year,” St. Mary coach Jason Kokoski said after the Crusaders opened the regular schedule with a 4-2 victory over the St. Thomas More Knights at Chedoke Twin Pad Arena Monday.
“We have a lot of young guys. It’s a big turnover. It goes in cycles.”
The Crusaders roster is comprised of four returnees including Justin Contant who scored a third-period power-play goal against the Knights. Other St. Mary markers went to Callum Williams, Mike Santini and Matt Stone (empty-netter).
Marcello Biggs, on a breakaway, and Dante Medeiros replied for More.
“Last year I’d say half our team was in Grade 12,” said Contant, a Grade 11 centre. “We’re still a solid team. We’ve got talent. It’s always good to have new players coming out.”
Contant and his brother, Jordan, were teammates last season on the squad that was seeded No. 1 at OFSAA and went undefeated in round-robin play before being upset in a quarter-final.
Said Kokoski: “Jordan was more of a quick, flashy guy. Justin can go into the corners, give hits and take hits. And he’s good around the net. He’s an all-around player.”
St. Mary led 1-0 at the end of the first period and More notched the only marker of the middle frame. Contant’s one-timer from the top of the crease regained the lead for the Crusaders and Santini added an insurance goal with 2:24 left.
Less than a minute later, however, Medeiros’s shot from a brief scramble made it 3-2.
“We had a slow start, but our guys responded well,” More coach Jason Popovic said. “We woke up and I think we took control of the game. The breaks just didn’t go our way.”
More was 7-0-3 last season before losing in the quarter-finals to the Bishop Ryan Celtics.
“We have a good veteran core,” Popovic said. “And we have a lot of promising rookies. We’ve got a lot to work with.”
Kokoski said he was pleased with his team’s performance – Thursday and Friday the Crusaders have a tournament in Niagara Falls.
“It was a good first game,” the St. Mary coach said. “It’s tough to get everybody organized. We just stuck to the basics. We tried to keep it simple.
“We played hard. It was a good team effort. When we were under pressure we didn’t panic too much in our end. We just kind of chipped it out.”
In HWCAA girls’ hockey action, St. Mary blanked More, 3-0. Olivia Stock scored twice and Sydney Hiltz added a single.
Taiya Lakhanpal was in goal for the shutout.
Source: Marnie Jadon