Thanks to the moral support of one of the team’s biggest boosters and a growing sense of confidence in themselves, the St. Kevin’s Mavericks senior boys hockey team exceeded expectations last week at the Confederation Cup, winning the Tier Two championship and racking up a steady streak of wins in games leading up to the final contest.
The final itself was a smoker with the Mavericks and a team from Marystown ending up tied by the end of the third period, forcing a five minute overtime period and then a shootout, which St. Kevin’s won.
"I’m glad the boys pulled it out, it was a real intense game there in the end," said coach Jason Snelgrove. "It was a fun week, I must say. The boys battled hard and they had a lot of hockey... It was really a total team effort."
The Confederation Cup is the largest high school hockey tournament in Atlantic Canada, drawing teams from across this province and even the Maritimes. St. Kevin’s played two games on the opening night of the tournament, followed by three games the following day and two games on the playoff day.
The tournament is so big, games are held at rinks throughout the Northeast Avalon. St. Kevin’s was fortunate, however, to play most of its games on home ice at the Goulds Arena, though the semi-final was played at the Glacier and the championship game at the new double arena in Paradise.
The Mavericks gored Laval 7-1 in the opening game, edged Holy Trinity 3-0 then dropped a game to a team from Inverness, Nova Scotia, 8-3, but rallied in the first elimination game to beat a high school from Stephenville 4-1, then Prince of Wales Collegiate 5-2 in the crossovers and Gonzaga 3-1 in the semi-finals, which included an empty netter.
As with the teams the Mavericks face in the High School Metro league, most of the squads it grappled with in the tournament were drawn from schools with much larger student populations than that of St. Kevin’s.
But with many of the games in the Goulds, the Mavericks were able to draw a large fan base for each of the contests. Snelgrove said that support definitely helped. Large numbers of students, as well as parents and relatives and even some teachers, turned up for the games. "It was nice," Snelgrove said.
The players also benefited from having student Colin Ward as a member of the team staff in the role of motivator. Ward has been a big supporter of the team all season and was made an honourary member of the squad just before Christmas.
Snelgrove said the spirit of the team is raised by Ward’s enthusiasm and his own example of battling some health issues without ever getting down. Ward, who is set to receive a kidney transplant later this spring, attended all the games of the tournament and encouraged the players with pep talks. When the championship trophy was presented, the players included Ward in the festivities on the ice and gave him a turn hoisting the cup to the cheers of fans and other supporters. "That was a special moment for everybody at the rink," Snelgrove said. "He was a big part of motivating the players every game... He adds a tonne to the group."
The coach is hoping the Confederation Cup victory will boost the team’s confidence in the Metro League, where it is sitting in fourth place out of five teams.
"We played the last couple of months short a good number of bodies," Snelgrove noted. "Not to give an excuse. But we’ve got a pretty solid team. I’m pretty pleased with the team we’ve got this year, but they went the last number of games without a win."
For some reason, the team and a large part of the student population seemed to rally for this tournament, Snelgrove said. St. Kevin’s has a good record at the Confederation Cup: last year it made it to the final, but lost against Mount Pearl Senior High. "So I guess this year was a bit of a redemption year for the team," he added.
Some of the players even wondered why their team was placed in the Tier Two division of the tournament, instead of Tier One, since St. Kevin’s has played and beaten some of the top division squads this season. Snelgrove said he told his players the Confederation Cup was a good chance for them to start proving they have a Tier One team and then take that momentum into the remaining games of the Metro League season.
"That’s what I’m hoping, Snelgrove said, "that they can use this one as a builder and make a good run for the league championship."
Snelgrove said the team is comprised of a hard working group of players. "And that’s what the tournament was like - we had to use every single person we had," he added. "Our alternates played games all weekend long, we’ve got a team that in order to be successful everybody has to play their game. I wouldn’t say we were an offensive team or a defensive team, but when we’ve got the group going, we’re pretty solid... I don’t think there’s been a game all year where we haven’t dressed a couple of alternates."
The team is carrying 20 skaters, including four alternates, and a goalie. "This is the first year that I’ve been coaching, and I’ve been coaching the team four years, that we’ve actually had to cut people," Snelgrove said, "because usually every year you get (just) 17 or 18 people coming down to try out and basically you take everyone and name a couple of alternates. But this year we had 26 or 27 people try out."
Snelgrove said he has enjoyed many special moments with the team since he’s been coaching. "But this (Confederation Cup win) tops it as of right now," he said. "It’s a really good group of boys and they deserve it."