The Bishop Tonnos Titans girls’ hockey team has two impressive claims to fame.
First, there’s the three medals (two silver and a bronze) the 9-year-old Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association entry has captured in the sport at the provincial high school level.
And, individually, the Titans can proudly say they’ve produced four Canadian national team players – forwards Jessica Wong and Jillian Saulnier plus defencemen Brittany Haverstock and Laura Fortino.
Fortino, 22, who last year completed a brilliant collegiate hockey career at Cornell University, will be representing Team Canada at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, next month. She’s been playing against international opponents since 2008.
Laura’s father, Ignazio, served as a trainer to the Hamilton boys’ AAA rep teams that she played for coming up through the ranks. He’s also been a long-time assistant coach for the Titans hockey program.
“We (the Fortino father-daughter combination) have some very special memories at Bishop Tonnos,” Ignazio said before Wednesday’s (Jan. 8) HWCAA boys/girls doubleheader between the St. Thomas More Knights and the Titans at Morgan Firestone Arena.
“I always joke around with her and say, ‘where’s the best hockey you’ve ever played?’ And she says, ‘oh, at Bishop Tonnos, dad.’ And she really means it. Bishop Tonnos has a special place in our hearts.”
Laura suited up for Tonnos when she was in Grade 9 and again in Grade 10. However, a rule came into play when she was in Grade 11 which prevented her from playing in the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference championship. Because she had made the national U-18 team, she became ineligible at that point to compete for the Titans.
Incredibly, girls’ hockey is still the only sport that prohibits a national team player from also representing her high school team on the ice.
“We’ve been in OFSAA pretty well every year,” Fortino said of the Titans. “We’ve had some very good teams at our school and we still do.
“I think high school hockey, especially for the girls, has come a long way. I hope the girls continue to progress. The talent out there is remarkable.”
A number of current Tonnos players were in the crowd of over 17,000 that saw Laura and the Canadian Olympic team play against the rival United States recently at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
“It was exciting to watch her play for the Olympic team,” said Mackenzie Lombardi, a Tonnos rookie. “It definitely makes you want to work harder to get where she has been.”
The Knights and the Titans started the scheduled game. It ended part way through the first period, however, due to an injury to Tonnos goalie Mary Stewart. She was involved in a three-player goal-mouth collision and was examined on the ice for 30 minutes before play was officially ended. More was leading 1-0 at the time on a goal by Sarah Hine.
“I think they (the HWCAA) will award them (More) the win, but at this point I’m not sure,” said Tonnos coach Henry DePellegrin. “We, as coaches, decided we didn’t want to proceed with the game for the injured player’s sake.”
Tonnos entered the contest in first place with a record of 4-0-1. Their wins, however, weren’t by large margins. The Knights ranked third, with a mark of 2-1-1.
Before leaving the arena, Fortino stepped behind the bench as an assistant to Dino Cavarzan for the Tonnos boys’ game on the adjoining rink. That contest ended in exciting fashion with More scoring the deciding goal with 3.5 seconds left on the clock. From a faceoff in the Tonnos zone with 8.9 seconds remaining, Jordan Lenko went behind the net and passed the puck to Daniel Palladino who scored from the top of the crease to give the Knights a 4-3 victory.
Palladino had two goals for the winners (3-2-1). Singles went to Joshua Levey and Lenko.
Marcus Giavonia, Luca Forchelli and Brady Lalonde replied for the Titans (3-4-0).