Roman Bezchlibnyk has made a quick adjustment. Instead of blocking people, he’s now blocking pucks.
Bezchlibnyk, who until recently was a left guard for the Cardinal Newman Cardinals football team, donned the goalie equipment as Newman opened its 2016-17 Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic high school hockey season Monday (Dec. 5).
And helped by Bezchlibnyk’s stalwart play between the pipes, the Cardinals skated to a 1-1 tie with the defending champion St. Thomas More Knights at Gateway Ice Centre.
Both goals were scored in the second period. Michael Gallagher gave Newman the lead on a one-timer from the top of the crease before Kristian Stewart replied with the tying goal from a sharp angle just over a minute later.
More out-chanced Newman over the first two periods, but the Cardinals seemed to have the territorial edge in the third. Newman lost to More in last year’s HWCAA final.
“Our goalie, Roman, really stood on his head and made some big saves,” Newman coach Anthony Macaluso said. “He’s just coming off football. To see him be that great when he’s been in offensive guard mode for the past three months is quite impressive.”
Neither the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations Independent Bowl champion Knights nor the Cardinals had much time to prepare for the hockey season because their respective football teams were so successful in their post-season runs. The More junior and senior teams each won a league championship, while Newman advanced to a Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference semi-final.
“I haven’t been able to get on the ice, so I felt pretty rusty out there,” Bezchlibnyk said. “It’s tough. I really feel banged up from football. My shin is all bruised.
“But I’m pretty happy with how I did tonight.”
Macaluso, who coached the East to victory during Sunday’s Steel City Bowl all-star football game for Hamilton-Wentworth high schools, said it’s going to take a while for several Cardinal football players to get in the groove for hockey. With a laugh, Macaluso said: “Matt Persia took a penalty where he tackled a guy. So I think his head was still in football mode.”
Similarly, More coach Gino Leone said his team got together for the first time last Thursday and had only had one inter-squad game to prepare for the season opener.
“We probably have eight or nine players from the football teams, the first-year Knights coach and former More student said. “I liked the way we battled out there. We worked hard. We outshot them, which was in our game plan. I’m pretty happy with the outcome.
“Their goalie played really well. We put a lot of pucks to him.”
Tiago Rocha – one of two Grade 9 goaltenders on the More roster – allowed just the one shot to elude him in his debut.
“We have a few returning players, but we’re a lot younger this year,” Leone said.
According to Macaluso, the Cardinals played pretty well considering they hadn’t practised or put a system into place. “The effort level definitely was there,” he said.
In the girls’ half of the hockey doubleheader, St. Thomas More blanked Newman, 5-0. The Knights got three goals by Amanda Mercuri and one apiece by Emily Coady and Sophia Taylor.