The team that almost never was proved to be the team that won.
Orchard Park Secondary School's Boys' Hockey Program has struggled in recent years both on the ice and off. Waning student interest coupled with a lack of a regular season schedule, almost shut the team down.
However, thanks to the persistence of some senior Patriots who wanted to take to the ice one final time in royal blue, the team was resurrected.
After only a handful of practices, the Orchard Park Patriots skated into the York University Classic Senior Boys High School Hockey Tournament on Thursday and Friday of last week. The Patriots were the only public school entered in the elite tournament, a mix of inexperienced junior and veteran senior players. The Patriots were the surprise of the tournament, finishing 5 and 0, hoisting the tournament trophy for the first time in Orchard Park school history.
The Pats opened the tournament against St. Roch Catholic Secondary School from Brampton and established their physical style of play early on to a 4-2 victory. Third year player Braden Johnston found the net twice and the team played solid defense in-front of goaltender Brent De Groot. Led by Captain Connor MacTaggart who celebrated his many goals by dropping to a knee and pumping his right fist, it was clear this was going to be a special run for the Patriots.
After downing Hamilton Christian School from Ancaster by a score of 4-2, the Patriots then dominated Bishop Marocco from Toronto with their intensity en route to a 7 to 0 shutout.
"We went into the tournament never having a full team practice, and I thought that we gelled as a team very well, getting better and better each game,” stated Daniel Krasulja, goalie and fourth year senior.
In the semi-finals, OP faced Bialik High School from Montreal. Senior Keifer Clark led the scoring with a hat trick, and paced the team to an 11-1 rout. The Pats were impressive on special teams, with forward Brandon Cole scoring 2 goals while two men down.
The Pats advanced to the finals where they met St. Roch for the second time. The Pats cruised to a 6-1 victory, winning the championship at York, a first for the school.
“Speaking for the group, I know we are all gearing up for the next tournament already,” says Connor MacTaggart. “We can’t wait to get on the ice again.”
The Patriots are slated to take to the ice again in March when they travel back to York University for their second tournament. This time the team in royal blue won't catch anyone by surprise.