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Crusaders capture league title in sudden-death overtime

By Larry Moko

The St. Mary Crusaders have captured the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic boys’ high school hockey championship for a third straight year.

And every one of those hard-fought, closely-contested victories has been at the expense of the Bishop Ryan Celtics – twice requiring either a shootout or an extra period.

“Unfortunately, it’s like a curse,” Bishop Ryan coach Justin Cannon said after the Celtics dropped a 2-1 decision in sudden-death overtime to St. Mary at Dave Andreychuk Mountain Arena Monday.

Despite the disappointment, Cannon says “hats off” to the Crusaders. “They’ve been a great hockey team for a few years now. They play physical and they don’t quit.”

The 2019 finale ended 40 seconds into OT on a goal by Mike Dittrich from a scramble in front of the net.

“It’s funny,” St. Mary coach Jason Kokoski said, “in the intermission we said we weren’t looking for anything fancy. (Dittrich) is not a flashy guy but around the net he is really good.”

It was the sixth goal of the season for Dittrich.

“It was a close game throughout,” the three-year Crusader veteran said. “In a game like that it’s not always the pretty goal that wins. You’ve got to get to the net hard, get pucks to the net and try to bang one in.

“You’ve also got to keep your feet moving because everyone is tired at the end of the game.”

Dittrich pointed out that it was a spinning manoeuvre by teammate Matt Stone that got the puck to him for the game winner.

St. Mary opened the scoring in the first period when Blake Stevenson wristed in a shot from the slot past Celtics netminder Lucas Diklic. Assists went to Travis Braine and Dario Tesoro.

The Celtics replied in the second period. Nicolas Marzilli took a lead pass from Nathaniel Krbavic, skated in on a breakaway, and outguessed goaltender Matt Watson with a deke.

Kokoski praised the performance between the pipes of Watson, his Grade 9 netminder.

“He was pretty calm. He held us in when we needed it. You’re never really sure how the young guys are going to react in a game like this.”

St. Mary finished second in the regular-season standings with a record of 5-2-2, while fourth-place Bishop Ryan was 3-4-2. The teams tied, 3-3, in their only meeting of the regular schedule.

In recent semifinal action, St. Mary topped the Cardinal Newman Cardinals, 6-3, while Bishop Ryan edged the St. Thomas More Knights, 2-1.

“We’re beyond proud of the way our kids played and the way they’ve come together,” Cannon said.

Both the Crusaders and Celtics advance to respective Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference AA and AAA semifinals. St. Mary takes on Halton Catholic’s second-place finisher Monday, March 4 at Morgan Firestone Arena (2 p.m.). Bishop Ryan will face the Halton public champion on Tuesday, March 5. Game time at Mountain Arena is 1:30 p.m.

Other members of the St. Mary squad are Charlie Donato, Will Kain, Andrew Tassone, Nolan Tassone, Devon Butler, Connor Phelan, Lucas Stegmaier, Justin Contant, Will Curwen, James Curwen, Justin Neiser, Noah Jacobsen, Chris Parent and Joe Hansen. 

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