Last year’s decision to launch a second hockey team at St. Paul’s High School is looking like a pretty good one these days.
The Tuxedo school’s second entry in the Winnipeg High School Hockey League won the B Division championship after a tightly contested final series against Sturgeon Heights Collegiate.
The Crusaders won the first game in overtime, lost Game 2 in a shootout and won the title on a goal by Ty Wood in the first shift of overtime in the deciding third game.
"The boys were elated," said coach Rob Puchniak. "We had built a 3-0 lead, but they came back to tie it late in the third. Momentum was against us… but the boys did a solid job to keep the puck in their end of the ice and bury an opportunity."
Crusaders captain Simon Garfinkel, a Grade 12 right-winger, said winning the championship was the team’s goal ever since making an early exit from the playoffs in its first season.
"That gave us some motivation," said the River Heights resident. "Early in the season we didn’t think about (winning the division) as much, but after the exam break it was something we could definitely sniff. We knew we were capable, and we just kept chugging away and had a successful playoff run."
Grade 11 defenceman Jordan Sinder said the team’s coaching staff deserved as much credit as the players. On top of daily practices, the team would often have lunch-hour meetings to go over their assignments and study the opposition.
"Dr. Puchniak was fantastic," said Sinder, who lives in Rivergrove. "I probably developed as a player more this year than any other year. Our team had an ability to be coached. If the coaches wanted us to do something differently, everyone was willing to adjust and make the change."
Sinder, playing in his first year of high school hockey, was happy the school added a second team, giving 19 more students a chance to represent St. Paul’s.
"I found that the high school league was much more enjoyable," he said. "The depth as far as athletic talent at our school is incredible."
Garfinkel agreed, noting that more than 80 players come out to hockey tryouts in the fall. He believes many of the players on the second team at St. Paul’s would be able to play for plenty of A Division teams at other schools.
"Having the second team is huge," Garfinkel said. "It gives us another group of very competitive hockey players to play at the elite level."
Puchniak said much of the focus of the B Division team is to develop younger players so that they can make the jump to the A Division. This year’s team featured one Grade 9 player and a mix from Grades 10 through 12.
The coach expects several players to move up a level next season, which, along with the graduating Grade 12 students, will mean plenty of new faces attempting to defend the title in 2014.