Already topping the regular season standings with a flawless record of 5-0, the St. Charles College Cardinals looked even more dominant in walking away with the banner at the Lively Invitational High School Hockey Tournament this past Sunday.
The Cards stopped the Horizon Aigles 5-1 in the gold medal encounter, as Tanner Webkamigad, Matthew Belanger, Bryceton Lalonde, Tayler Bedard and Ayden Popowich all hit the mark for coaches Rob Zanatta and Darren Michelutti.
St. Charles had advanced to the big game by virtue of an 8-1 win over the host Lively Hawks, with Belanger burying a hat trick to show the way. Lalonde, with a pair, Joe Guzzo, Spencer Lavallee and Bedard joined Belanger on the scoresheet for the Cardinals, while Caleb Hawes countered with the only goal for Lively.
Horizon doubled the Confederation Chargers 4-2 in a battle of the Valley schools to earn their berth in the final, but proved no match for the juggernaut Cardinals, with injuries depleting the Aigles roster. Arguably the best opposition in town for the front-running SCC crew this year are not in the mix, as the Notre-Dame Alouettes decided not to ice a team due to some internal issues with the 2016-2017 squad that captured the SDSSAA title.
Though there may have been a touch of "tournament hangover" in effect, credit goes out to the Lo-Ellen Park Knights, who gave the Cardinals all they could handle on Tuesday before falling 5-3 as regular season action picked up again.
St. Charles improved to 6-0 on the year on the strength of a two goal performance from Guzzo, with Cole Molyneaux, Bedard and Lalonde adding one goal apiece. Long-time defenceman turned high school forward Owen Coles was most prominent for Lo-Ellen, picking up a pair of tallies as well as an assist on the remaining Knights' marker from Matti Allen.
"We definitely have a very fast team, a nice team for moving the puck, though today was not a good example of that," said coach Zanatta after the contest. "We're a very young team. We have a possibility of 13 guys returning next year, and we have a bunch of grade elevens."
Still, the Cardinals' staff is anxious to put this group to the test outside of the city limits, making yet another trek to the Father Tony McNamara Tournament hosted by the St. Michael's Mustangs in Niagara Falls next week.
"We'll have to see when we go away," said Zanatta. "We'll know a little more what's out there and where we stand at a more provincial level. With the speed that we have, we have to forecheck well, we have to get on pucks and we have to backcheck well, and we can do that with our speed."
"Defensively, we're very young," he said. "We're getting better and we work on it at practice every day. We keep emphasizing to the kids that we are going to get better, right through the season. The sky is the limit, because this is a nice group of kids who listen well and practice hard."
Still, as was noted with the Knights, St. Charles will find themselves tested, both locally and elsewhere, if they do not bring their "A" game to the rink.
"We have to make sure they understand that there are no easy nights," said Zanatta. "If we play poorly, we will not be successful."
More tournament action to follow again this weekend, as the Lo-Ellen Park Knights, Confederation Chargers, St. Benedict Bears, Espanola Spartans and Manitoulin Mustangs are all part of the field at the 44th Annual NDA (Nipissing District Athletics) High-School Hockey Tournament in North Bay.
Play commenced on Thursday, with the Knights (6-2 vs Widdifield; 5-4 vs West Ferris) and Chargers (5-1 vs West Ferris, 1-1 vs Algonquin) both hitting the win column on day one. St Benedict rounded out preliminary play on Friday morning with a 7-2 win over the Timmins (TH&VS) Blues, earning a berth in the quarter-finals along with Lo-Ellen and Confederation.
In league play, Horizon also remained unbeaten, bumping up to 4-0 after blasting the Lockerby Vikings 8-2 on Thursday, with Confederation close behind at 4-1 thanks to a 6-2 victory over Manitoulin on Monday.
League play resumes Monday evening at Carmichael with Confederation and St Charles facing off at 7 p.m., while Lockerby and Lo-Ellen meet up at 8:45 p.m.