Team makes history with first OFSAA boys hockey medal
Paris District High School made hockey history this week in St. Catharines.
Playing at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AA boys championship, the Panthers came home with antique bronze medals following their 3-1 loss in the bronze-medal game to Kingston’s Regiopolis-Notre Dame Catholic High School.
It’s the first medal for PDHS at OFSAA boys hockey and it is also thought to be the first time a boys hockey team from Brant County has won a medal at the provincial championship.
“It’s the greatest team I’ve ever coached and the greatest bunch of kids all-around that I’ve ever coached,” Paris coach Gary Gardner said.
“I’m super proud.”
The Panthers didn’t take their coach by surprise.
Gardner took over the Panthers last season and the team made it all the way to the Athletic Association of Brant, Haldimand and Norfolk championship game before it was upset by McKinnon Park Secondary School.
This year Paris went through the AABHN season undefeated, eventually claiming the championship it missed out on last year.
From the outset of the season, Gardner had confidence in his players but it was his players that convinced him the sky was the limit.
“I believed that they could make a big stand at CWOSSA,” Gardner said of the Central Western Ontario Secondary School Association championship.
“Now, at the beginning of the year did I ever imagine we’d be going for a medal at OFSAA? No. The kids they said they wanted to make a run at OFSAA. That was the plan. They were as confident as could be and as a coach, if they have the confidence, you have to agree with them.”
The Panthers would eventually capture their CWOSSA championship, beating Hanover’s John Diefenbaker Senior School 4-2 in the final.
“It was huge,” Gardner said of the CWOSSA title. “When we won that, I started to believe there wasn’t a team that could beat us.
“With that being said, we hit OFSAA and I saw some of the warmups and said, ‘Holy crap, this is a whole different level.’”
Paris wasn’t built like the other teams it saw at OFSAA. The Panthers didn’t have a roster of ‘AA’ and ‘AAA’ players like other teams and unlike some of its opponents, Paris did have Grade 9s and 10s on its roster.
Ranked seventh at OFSAA, PDHS beat 12th-ranked Georgian Bay College 5-1 in its opening game on Tuesday before downing 14th-ranked Holy Trinity Catholic Secondary School from Courtice 3-2.
Despite losing 6-4 to No.1-ranked St. Mary’s College from Sault Ste. Marie in their final preliminary game on Wednesday, Paris moved on to the quarters where it faced second-ranked St. Francis Catholic Secondary School from St. Catharines.
“Getting to the quarters against second-ranked St. Frances, I knew we had something for them,” Gardner said. “Did I ever envision putting the second-ranked team out 5-3? No.”
The team then suffered a tough 1-0 overtime loss in the semifinals on Thursday against Stratford’s St. Michael Catholic Secondary School.
“That was sort of the dagger that set the tone for the next (game),” Gardner admitted of losing to the fifth-ranked team in the semis.
“They kind of deflated. We fought the best we could. We gave it our all but we ran out of gas in the bronze-medal game, there’s no doubt about it.”
St. Michael would wind up winning gold when it defeated St. Mary’s 5-4 in overtime of the final.
Gardner said the players worked for each other all season and didn’t let one another down.
“I call them the Band of Brothers,” said the coach. “They were always helping each other and picking each other up.”
Gardner, who wanted to thank the local hockey community as well as his coaches, Shane Seibert, Josh Gowing, Mary Thomas and Ryan O’Keefe, said the players will have this memory for the rest of their lives.
“It was quite a ride,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
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