The Road to OFSAA

Tom Gazzard


The road to OFSAA began in late October at North Toronto Arena, where nearly 40 players competed at tryouts to make it onto the squad. Coaches Mr. Taylor and Mr. Russell were faced with the task of creating a team that had a balance of talent, grit and determination. Tryouts proved to be difficult as some players were upset with the coaches’ cuts. However, I think Mr. Russell said it best when he said, “you’d have thought we were cutting Stamkos.” After finalizing a roster that consisted of almost 15 grade 12 players, coupled with a number of young rookie sensations and an new O-Show (OHL) goaltender, the Norsemen were extremely excited to begin their season. With a strong veteran presence as well as solid leadership in captains Nic Giancola, Jarrett Wilkinson and David Lewis, not to mention the new “classy” Reebok uniforms, the team was extremely determined to make it to city championships.

 Upon entering the season, expectations were high for the team. After a heartbreaking 4-3 loss in the finals of their opening tournament (a loss to St. Mary’s Catholic school in Hamilton, ranked #6/20 in OFSAA), the team regrouped for the regular season. The boys battled to a 6-0-2 record within their region, their only ties coming to Lawrence Park and Leaside, and finished first in their division. The team seemed poised to make a deep playoff run. However, in the finals of the team’s second tournament, the boys let in a late 3rd period goal, leading to a 3-2 loss. Once again the team was left empty handed. In the dressing room following the defeat, Coach Taylor left the boys with an important message to remember: “it’s better to lose now than in the playoffs, this will only make us hungrier.”

 For many of the players, the highlight of the season came in the middle of February at the North Toronto vs Northern buyout. After weeks of anticipation, some extracurricular team “bonding sessions”, and hundreds of flyers posted around the school, the day finally came. The team was electric and they stormed on to the ice determined to beat Northern in front of an incredible home crowd. After some initial rough play (some of which resulted in a Brendan Shanahan-like suspension from the main office), Dillon Stanway, the team’s back-up goaltender, took over. In his first game playing forward, Stanway managed to challenge his inner “Rudy” and ripped 3 goals, leading the team to a 4-1 victory over their rivals. The game reinvigorated the players and allowed the team to enter the playoffs with confidence. 

 The Norsemen were dominant in initial stages of the playoffs, beating Riverdale 8-3 and Lawrence 4-0 to earn a birth to the regional championship against Humberside. Although the regional championship was an honour to participate in, the team had already qualified for the city semi-finals the following week, making the game meaningless. The boys were once again blessed with a buyout crowd, and battled Humberside to a 3-3 tie heading into overtime. After dominating the first few minutes of overtime, an unlucky bounce led to Humberside, potting a flukey goal. The Norsemen had now gone winless in 3 championship games and were beginning to worry that they would not live up to the team’s potential.

 After losing to Humberside, the team was set to play the winner of the West region, Sir Oliver Mowat CI. Mowat had proved to be a dominant team, and were ranked 3rd in the province upon entering OFSAA the previous year. NT once again came out

strong and built a 2-goal cushion. However, the Norsemen had trouble holding a lead and let Mowat tie the game with 2 minutes remaining. In the dying moments of the game, Andrew Ezer ripped a shot from the top of the circles and sent NT to the city finals.

 City finals proved to be a rematch of the south region finals, pitting North Toronto against Humberside. After previously losing in such a heartbreaking fashion, the Norsemen were determined to win. In addition to the CityTV and Rogers cameras and a birth to OFSAA at stake, the significance of the game was amplified for many of the senior players, knowing that it could potentially be the final game of their careers. The team came out nervous and spotted Humberside a 2-0 lead in the 1st period. Just before the end of the 1st period, Mark McGregor scored an absolutely gorgeous and crucial goal to keep NT in the game. Moments later, Rhys Evenson snapped a laser through a screen on the power-play to tie things up. After another 2 hard fought periods, both teams were getting desperate for the next goal. With 2:37 left to go in the game, Brian Hamm was left alone in front and tucked one right underneath the bar. However, with a flare for the dramatic, NT once again let Humberside back into the game with only 18 seconds left on the clock, forcing OT. In overtime, Rhys Evenson stepped in over the blue line and sniped a quick shot just past the goalie’s glove, winning city championships and sending the team to OFSAA. 

 For me, this season has been the most fun I’ve had playing hockey. The success of the team was a result of the brotherhood that the boys formed outside of the rink. The boys made sacrifices for each other and put the team first. It has been an honour playing for Coach Taylor and Russell and we thank you for everything.  

 To the players: thanks for the incredible ride boys. Jarrett put it best when he said “From the RBK edge jerseys, to the 6 in the morning practices. From the sutherland minute, to the 15 minute speeches from Mr.Russell where everybody day dreams about that broad they wanna [mack]. From finally signing the O show, to dying blonde and red flow. From the heartbreaks of two finals losses to the thrill of the bone crushing hits in the buyout and our tendy going ched for the hat trick infront of a crowd that could have easily been mistaken as the ACC. From suspensions to a heavy weight fight with Wong to long term injuries of young prospects. From an undefeated season and two playoff wins to book the ticket to the ship, to a broken sink, a mystery bra, and taking pride in putting on the yak goalie mask and getting blackout at rookie party. A band of brothers together as one, giving it everything you got and knowing the guy beside has your back.” Couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to finish my hockey career with. Can’t wait to go to OFSAA with you boys, make some more memories and hopefully win some more games. Thanks for everything.