Winless Brebeuf Braves hold their heads high

(Photo: Gerry Graham/HWCDSB)

(Photo: Gerry Graham/HWCDSB)

The St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves saved their best for last at the 2014 Ontario boys’ Triple A/Quad A high school hockey championship tournament.

The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association representatives were 0-3 going into the final game of the round-robin schedule on Wednesday (March 19) at Oakville’s Sixteen Mile Sports Complex. Brebeuf had been outscored 24-9 in those pool losses to the Orangeville District Bears, St. Elizabeth Panthers of Thornhill and Kingston’s Holy Cross Crusaders.

Against the fourth-seeded Mississauga St. Aloysius Gonzaga Bulldogs, however, the Braves tightened up defensively and got a spectacular goaltending effort from Chris Woodward. It was another loss – 2-1 – but, overall, it marked the most impressive performance of the tournament for Brebeuf.

“Chris was outstanding,” said Brebeuf veteran assistant coach Leon O’Connor. “He stood on his head. The kids played hard and did the best they could. “Being at OFSAA was a really good experience for us. Today, we played for coach (Mark) Fama who is in hospital having heart surgery.”

Fama showed his dedication to the team by being behind the bench for both of Brebeuf’s games on Tuesday. Said Brebeuf physical education co-instructional head Mike Rowe: “The players really appreciated that. Teacher/coaches give a lot of their time and passion to the team. Everyone in the room respects Mr. Fama and Mr. O’Connor.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to get to OFSAA in 40 years. The school and the East Mountain community are quite proud.”

Brebeuf got on the scoreboard first against Gonzaga on a close range goal from winger Max Offel. But with only five seconds left in the opening period, the Bulldogs’ Matthew Uschold tied the score.

Then, after a scoreless second period, Curtis Richards beat Woodward with a long shot on the rush just seven seconds after the faceoff to begin the third.

“When I went down in the butterfly, my pad lifted up a bit,” Woodward said of the winning goal. “It slipped right underneath. I felt it go right past my left. The second it went through I knew it was in.

“We started off badly in the first three games of the tournament. We let in a lot of goals and the defense wasn’t too tight. This game, though, we really got it together and played as a team.”

Woodward and Brodyn Sexton each saw action between the pipes on Day 1 of the 20-team provincial tournament. Woodward was particularly sharp in the second period against Gonzaga when he stopped a penalty shot and faced a barrage of shots while Brebeuf was penalized for four consecutive minutes.

“The guys now know they can play with the best teams in Ontario,” Rowe said.

Brebeuf dropped its opening game on Wednesday, 7-4, to Holy Cross. The Kingston squad broke open a 1-1 tie with five unanswered goals in the second period (three on the power play). Goals for the Braves were scored by Aaron Panter, Matthew Hogan, Sam Agro and Offel.

O’Connor said most of the elite high school hockey teams in the province play four times more games than HWCAA squads do. And they practice together much more often, too.

“I’ve been with the hockey program for about 10 years,” O’Connor said. “This year was exceptional. We got to OFSAA for the first time in 40 years. For me, it was memorable. Fantastic.”

Quarter-finals are set for Thursday (10:30 a.m., 10:45, 11 and 11:15). Semi-finals follow at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. with the gold-medal contest scheduled for Friday at 3:30 p.m.