Halton girls hockey celebrations tempered by uncertain future

loyolaThe Bishop Tonnos Titans feel sorry for the team that just beat them.

Oakville’s Loyola Hawks blanked the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic league champions from Ancaster, 3-0, for the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference girls’ hockey title at Morgan Firestone Arena on Monday (March 4). And with that outcome, the Halton champions advance to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations Triple A/ Quad A tournament, March 18-21 in Orillia.

And why would Tonnos have any sympathy for Loyola? It’s because Tonnos can empathize with the situation that the Hawks and other girls’ high school hockey teams from Halton currently find themselves in. Beginning next season, the Halton Secondary Schools Athletic Association expects to introduce a new rule preventing girls from playing high school hockey if they also take part in a rep league.

Currently, most of the participants in girls’ high school hockey come from rep organizations. Fourteen of the 15 Titans, for example, combine both programs. Loyola, too, is loaded with players with rep experience.

“I would be really upset,” Tonnos veteran forward Anita Paone said of the move to ban rep players from Halton high school girls’ hockey teams. No such ruling to limit participation is on the horizon for the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association.

Paone, 17, also suits up for the Burlington Intermediate AA Barracudas.

“I think a lot of their (high school) teams will fold,” she said. “There are not a lot of girl hockey players to begin with.

“Playing high school hockey is more laid back. It’s all about your friends. You’re representing your school. It’s something good to be part of. I think it has helped develop me as a player.”

Dino Cavarzan, who has guided the Titans to two silver and two bronze medals in recent years at OFSAA, said boys’ high school hockey attracts far more players to its tryouts than the girls do. When asked what effect the HSSAA ruling might have, Cavarzan said: “It will end girls’ hockey. There’s not enough house league players to make up the teams.”

In Halton, boys for decades have not been allowed to suit up for their high school hockey teams if they also play for an AAA organization. Hawks’ coach Dave McNamara, who coached boys’ hockey at Loyola before the girls’ league arrived on the scene about 18 years ago, says a solution would be for the HSSAA to allow rep males, too.

“It will be the end of girls’ hockey,” McNamara said of the new rule’s potential impact. “Even if you had 10 or 15 house league players for a team, what if you don’t have a goalie. How can you put someone in net who might get hurt? Hockey for girls is still in its infancy.

“It would be a shame … just when these girls are getting really good.”

Loyola, previously 0-3 in GHAC playoffs against Tonnos, scored one goal in each period en route to the win. Mackenzie Sutherland, Kristen O’Neill and Andrea Benac notched the goals, while Daniela Panniccia picked up the shutout.

McNamara, a long-time National Hockey League scout, will be leading a team to OFSAA for the first time.

“This was a hard-fought game,” McNamara said. “We have a very talented, determined team this year from the goaltender out. I think our strength is defence. Our defencemen are seniors who are all very mobile and quick. They give our goalie a lot of help.”

Paone, a four-year Titan veteran, said the Hawks forechecked hard and worked well together as a team.

“They are a fast team and they move the puck well,” Cavarzan added. “A few of their girls have beautiful hands.”

Tonnos has captured five of the last six Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic championships.