St. Mary wins fourth straight league title

By Larry Moko

It’s a four-peat for the St. Mary boys’ high school hockey team.

The Crusaders made it four-consecutive Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association titles with a 1-0 victory over the St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves at Morgan Firestone Arena on Wednesday.

Both teams, however, are still in contention for OFSAA berths. St. Mary, which has chosen to contend at the AA provincial level, next takes on Nelson in a GHAC semifinal while Brebeuf faces a Halton Catholic representative in a regional AAA semifinal. Both games are March 9 at 2:30 p.m.

“I like the way the guys are playing,” St. Mary coach Jason Kokoski said. “If we play like this, I would have confidence in us against anybody.”

It was a scoreless battle for two periods, with goaltenders Ethan Labbe of Brebeuf and St. Mary’s Matt Watson each coming up with some outstanding saves. Labbe, though, was tested more often.

The Crusaders finally broke through just 17 seconds into the third period on a 2-on-1 rush. Anthony Cafazzo scored with the assist going to three-year veteran Matt Stone.

“As soon as I got it past their defenceman,” Stone said, “I looked out the corner of my eye and saw Anthony getting away from the defence. I kind of slid it under the stick of the defenceman to get it right to Anthony and he put it home.

“Both teams are very skilled. I knew it would be a close game. The goalies were tremendous. It was kind of up for grabs who was going to take it.”

St. Mary (4-4-2) finished fourth in the regular-season standings while Brebeuf (3-6-1) ended up sixth.

“Total respect to that guy (Labbe),” Kokoski said. “He played his heart out. Their whole team played well.”

Brebeuf coach Mark Fama said the Crusaders’ attack from the neutral zone was leading to too many 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 rushes against the Braves.

“I don’t think we really pressed enough offensively,” Fama said. “When we had the puck in their end it seemed like it was usually 1-on-2 or 2-on-3. We had some chances but we didn’t finish.”

The most dangerous scoring opportunities for Brebeuf came on rushes from defenceman Jacob Bramwell. Said Fama: “Him and (Ryan) Burke have the green light any time they touch the puck because they know what they’re doing.”

The Braves had a glorious opportunity to tie the score when St. Mary received a too many men on the ice penalty with 37 seconds remaining. Brebeuf pulled its goalie in favour of a sixth skater but Burke’s shot before the buzzer was saved by Watson.

The game also featured another championship meeting between the teams’ two veteran head coaches. Kokoski who used to play for St. Mary when Fama coached there in the mid 1990s, coached the Crusaders against Fama’s Braves in the 2010 final at Mountain Arena. On that occasion, Brebeuf won.

“This was like a 10-year rematch,” Kokoski said.

The Crusaders 2019-20 roster was also comprised of Justin Murchison, Conor Phelan, Owen Goodbrand, Noah Reinhart, Tom Kovacevic, Justin Hill, Jack Restori, Colby Stevenson, Ashton Mccarles, Nate Tivey, Evan Krell, Noah Jacobsen, Will Curwen, Jackson Blaney, Caleb Frank and Kristopher Doric.

Other members of the Braves are Josh Goodridge, Jacob Guilbeault, Tyler Smeda, Dante Cocuzza, Mark Swietek, Matthew Geczy, Marcus Corak, Jordan Curran, Justin O’Connor, Coleson Winters, Matt Penney, and Carson Trevisani.

Brebeuf’s next game is at Morgan Firestone Arena while St. Mary travels to Burlington’s Appleby Ice Centre.

Source: Marnie Jadon

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