Champion Knights miss the ice  

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Among the pictures he looks at these days are those celebrating both High School Hockey League and Northern Ontario Secondary Schools Association (NOSSA) A/AA/AAA championships.

However, looking back is bittersweet for St. Mary’s Knights head coach Mike Oliveira.

“Of course, we miss it. We want to be playing and coaching,” said Oliveira, whose team won its fifth straight city title in 2020, and captured NOSSA honours for the fourth time in a five-year span. “We talk about it with the kids regularly and playing high school hockey is the students’ outlet. And of course, I miss it, too. We have a lot of great memories.”

Indeed.

Tuesday of this week marked the one-year anniversary of the Knights 2-1 victory over the Korah Colts at John Rhodes Community Centre. It completed a three-game sweep in the best-of-five, 2019-2020 high school hockey city final.

One week later, the Knights defeated North Bay’s Algonquin Barons 4-0 in the NOSSA final in North Bay.

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Now, not only has the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020-2021 season for local teams and athletes, it also kept the Knights from competing at last year’s all-Ontario hockey championships.

The 2020 Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) A/AA playdowns were slated to begin last March 25 in St. Catharines, Ont.

Ten days before that, the tourney was cancelled.

Looking back at last year’s team, Oliveira remembers a squad paced by “such a good leadership group.”

The leaders included players such as team captain Chuck Webb, a star winger, defenceman Johnny Mackin and centre Josh Mannarino, who were also standouts.

Knights players “jelled really well together and the leadership group made the coaches job easier,” Oliveira added. There was very little coaching they needed.”

Oliveira and assistant coach Frank Medaglia led the Knights to a record of 13-4-1 (wins, losses, overtime losses). St. Mary’s beat Central Algoma Secondary School (CASS) in two straight games in the best-of-three semifinals, before sweeping the Colts 3-0 in the best-of-five city finals.

Tied 1-1, late in Game 3 of the city finals, the Knights at first believed defenceman Christian Alfano had scored. However, Mannarino was credited with the go-ahead marker on a redirection past goalie Sean Zago.

St. Mary’s had taken the lead with 6:50 left in regulation, in what would eventually be a 2-1 victory. Kyle Finateri had the other goal for the winners while Mackin assisted on both Knights markers.

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Kaden Dundas had the lone goal for the Colts.

“It feels amazing to win the city,” Finateri told The Sault Star moments after the game had ended.

At the same time, Mannarino spoke of how he “didn’t think we played particularly well. But we found a way to win and that’s the most-important thing.”

The Knights began the series with a hard-fought, 1-0 overtime victory. Ethan Novello had the goal and Josh Lidstone posted the shutout.

However, Game 2 was totally different. Webb scored three times and Isaac Parise added a pair in an 8-0 victory. Colby Arbour had a short-handed goal and he and Finateri finished with a goal and an assist each. Nathan Rowe had the other goal while Nick Niro contributed three assists.

Mackin, Mannarino and Novello added two assists each and Sam Crowell posted the shutout.

“I’m confident we can finish it up (in Game 3),” said Webb, who was later named playoff MVP after earlier being chosen the city’s regular season MVP.

The Knights did just that, beating a hard-working Korah team in Game 3.

Oliveira has coached this team since two local high schools, St. Mary’s and St. Basil, amalgamated in 2015.  The coach spoke of how the 2019-2020 was strong.

“I would say it was the second-or-third-best team we’ve had since the schools joined forces,” Oliveira added. “The 2015-2016 team was really good.”

That club placed fourth at the OFSAA AAA championships in Windsor.

If there had been a 2020-2021 season, the Knights would have skated minus Webb, Mannarino, Mackin, Arbour and Novello, who made this season’s roster of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Soo Thunderbirds.

“We would have been really young,” Oliveira said. “But we definitely would have been in the hunt for the city championship. We always have good kids in the program.”

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