By Larry Moko
Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association hockey teams are about to change their focus from March break to breakaways.
This week – from March 21-24 -- three HWCAA entries have qualified for Ontario high school hockey championship tournaments to be held in Fort Frances, Mississauga and Stratford.
At the A/AA level of OFSAA, the St. Mary Crusaders are flying to far-flung Fort Frances for the boys’ provincial tournament. Sixteen teams will by vying for that title, including the No. 1-seeded Fort Frances Muskies. Seeded No. 3, St. Mary is in a pool with the Campbellford Flames, Widdifield Wildcats and Dryden Eagles.
The Crusaders also participated in OFSAA last year but failed to make the playoff round.
For girls’ AAA, in Mississauga, the HWCAA will be represented by the Bishop Tonnos Titans. Tonnos has the No. 13 seed in the 16-team field. Action begins Wednesday.
It will be Tonnos’s seventh trip to the provincial championship. The Titans have reached the HWCAA final in 11 consecutive seasons, winning nine. Last year, the Titans bowed out in the quarter-final round at OFSAA.
And at the girls’ 16-team A/AA finals in Stratford, the ninth-seeded St. Mary Crusaders are vying for the overall championship. Last year, they captured the consolation title.
The first game for the Lady Crusaders is Wednesday. They are in a pool along with Sudbury’s College Notre-Dame Alouettes, Whitby’s All Saints Titans and Manotick’s St. Mark Lions.
First to play, on Tuesday, will be the St. Mary boys’ team. They went undefeated in league action this season en route to winning both the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic and Golden Horseshoe association titles.
“The competition (at OFSAA) is usually fairly close,” St. Mary coach Jason Kokoski said.
“Skill wise there isn't usually a lot of difference in any of the higher seeds. Any seed in the top 10 has a chance to win it and even teams 11-16 can have a good run and upset someone higher. These are some of the best teams in their respective regions regardless of A/AA/AAA school size.
“As the No. 3 seed, I think we have a pretty good chance. We’ve known all year we are deep at all positions. It really comes into play when you are competing in two tough games per day.”
According to Kokoski that depth is one of St. Mary’s biggest strengths. “We also have a very complete team where we can play any type of game that best suits who we are playing,” he said. “We can play physical and grind, use speed or play a puck possession skill game. Most teams can only bring one or two of those to the table and even then not on every line.”
St. Mary’s opening-day opponents will be Dryden and Widdifield.