Resilient Knights Claim Championship

Resilient Knights Claim Championship after Hard-fought Season
Posted on 02/23/2024

By Larry Moko

With all the pressure squarely on their shoulders, the St. Thomas More Knights scored a late goal to win the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic boys’ high school hockey championship Thursday.

The second-place Knights took the 2023-24 title with a 3-2 decision over the sixth-place St. John Henry Newman Cardinals at Morgan Firestone Arena.

More was favoured in the contest because Newman had won only two of 10 regular-season games before rallying twice with last-minute heroics to get past their quarter-final and semifinal playoff opponents.

Entering the league final, Newman’s overall record was 4-8, while More had a mark of 6-3-2.

Winger Giacomo Pugliese scored with 3 minutes, 49 seconds left in the third period to lift More to its first league championship since 2016.

“There was a nice juicy rebound and I just tapped it in,” Pugliese said.

Before Pugliese pounced, teammate Logan Slack whacked at the puck and it was stopped by Newman goaltender Owen Papp.

“Awesome,” Pugliese said. “We deserved it. We played hard all year. We had a little bump in the road but we came back to finish it off.”

Defenceman Julian Carbone and Blake Curran scored to give the Knights a two-goal cushion in the first period. But Newman got the lone goal of the second period by Macauley Wellstead (on a power play) and Nolan Methot’s marker tied it three minutes into the third.

On both of More’s first two goals the pucks were deflected and changed direction wildly en route to the net.
“That’s hockey  … that’s life,” Newman coach Matt Pritchard said. “Sometimes you just throw the puck towards the net, it hits a body or a stick and it ends up in the net. Unfortunately, two of theirs ended up in the back of ours.

“I’m really proud of our guys, though. St. Thomas More has a really good team and we kept fighting right until the very end. That’s kind of become our identity now.”

With its goaltender pulled in favour of an extra attacker, Newman threated to score from a couple of wild goal-mouth scrambles as the clock ticked down.

“This game could have gone either way,” More coach Jeff Toole said. “We dug deep. Newman played fantastic. The pressure was on us as the favourite today.

“All this adversity will prepare us for what’s next at the GHAC playoffs.”

Toole, who retired from teaching last year after 31 years in the profession at Cathedral and then More, was thrilled by the Knights gold-medal performance.

“This was pretty special,” he said. “I definitely don’t take it for granted. I’ve never won a high school hockey championship before.”

The Cathedral Gaels came close with Toole behind the bench 20 years ago against the St. Jean de Brébeuf Braves. “We lost that game 10-9 in the final,” Toole recalled. “We had a really good team and we were favoured to win.”

Toole also is well known around the city from his involvement in rep coaching and directing club hockey development programs.

“There’s something to be said about representing your school,” Toole said. “My message to the guys at practice was ‘don’t take this for granted’. I never thought it would be 20 years for me (between high school championship game appearances).”

More’s next action will be Tuesday, March 5 in a Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference AAA semifinal.
Other members of the Knights include captain Joseph Sinclair, Josh Cordell, Liam Keogh, Sam Shweihat,
Calogero Pirrera, Marco Restauri, Xavier Filice, Liam Ryerson, Luke Grehan, Preston Swan, Anthony Morcone, Jeremy Duck, Lucas Larocca, Adam Bistoyong, Anthony Bukvic, goaltender Danny Doyle, Joseph Paiement, Kevin Filice, Luigi D’ortenzio, Rogan Monaghan and Blake Coles.

This was the first time in the past six years that the St. Mary Crusaders haven’t advanced to the city finals. Coach Jason Kokoski’s Crusaders will, however, take on a Halton AA opponent in the first round of GHAC playoffs on Tuesday, March 5.

Photos by Bob Butrym, RFB Sport Photography

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