Midget Crusaders crowned Ontario champions
Crusaders have big weekend at home to win title
By Shawn Loughlin
The Blyth Brussels Midget AE Crusaders are champions of the province and owners of the Eric Wesslby Memorial Trophy after a pair of wins over the Lambton Shores Predators on Saturday and Sunday.
The Crusaders capped off their championship season on Sunday at the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre with a sweep of the Lambton Shores Predators, based in Forest, winning all six of the points they needed in the first three games of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) series.
On Sunday, Lambton Shores scored first, lighting the lamp with a power play goal in the first period. Their tally was quickly matched by the home team with a power play goal of its own to end the first period.
In the second, the teams traded goals once again, this time they were both even strength, as the Predators went ahead 2-1 and the Crusaders once again evened the score up at two, sending the game to the third period tied at two.
Blyth Brussels then scored a power play goal shortly after the third period began and never looked back, scoring again to make it 4-2 and then added an empty net goal with seconds left to solidify the 5-2 win.
The crowd then helped the players count the clock down to zero and the celebration began as helmets, gloves and mouth guards flew and players and coaches piled on goalie Dalton Carey at the home end of the ice.
Each player was then awarded a gold medal and a chance to hoist the Eric Wesslby Memorial Trophy before taking the traditional trip around Brussels on a Huron East fire truck.
Coach Scott Johnston said he couldn’t be more proud of the team, both as players and as people, as, over the course of the season, he and the coaching staff saw them mature before their eyes.
“I’m very proud of them,” Johnston said the day after the big win. “They were boys at the start of the season and by the end they had turned into young men.”
While Johnston points to many hockey-related factors as reasons why the Crusaders find themselves atop the hockey world, like puck movement and making the Lambton Shores goalie move a lot in the crease, he said it’s what changed in the players that resulted in the win, not adjustments made on the ice.
He points to the players getting along well and creating an environment full of positive reinforcement and devoid of negativity as the reason the team began to come together.
“They really started to believe in themselves,” he said.
Johnston said that at the beginning of the season, the Crusaders had a lot of work to do and he didn’t see them making a lot of noise in the season’s OMHA tournament.
Tim Waechter of Brussels, a defenseman with the team, agreed, saying that the team wasn’t playing as well as it could have at the beginning of the season, but as the players began to believe in themselves, that all started to change.
“Coach Scott always told us to remember the three believes: the coaches believe in us, we have to believe in each other and we have to believe in ourselves,” Waechter said.
Waechter said that while he feels the improvement of the team happened gradually over the course of the season, it was a second place finish at the International Silver Stick tournament in Minden late last year when opinions started to change and the members of the group began to believe in themselves as their coach had implored them to do.
This was Waechter’s fourth trip to the OMHA tournament, he said, and coming away with a win was important to him. So important, in fact, that he cut another sports opportunity short in order to be there.
Waechter was in Hawaii, representing Canada with his rugby team from St. Anne’s Catholic Secondary School, but made the trip back to Canada early, knowing he didn’t want to miss games two and three of the series at his home arena.
Both were once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, he said, but with this being his final year of eligibility in the minor hockey system, he knew where he wanted to be and, in the end, the choice wasn’t a hard one to make.
As for the fire truck ride, Waechter says it was one of the highlights of the day because it’s a chance that not a lot of people get over the course of their lives.
For Assistant Coach Steve Howson, the win brought back boyhood memories. Howson was on a Blyth team that in 1971/1972 became the first team from the village to win an OMHA title.
The win, he said, is something the players will carry with them their whole lives, especially the team’s eight third-year players, who have now played their last season of minor hockey.
Howson said that the players worked hard and they deserve all of the fanfare they receive as a result of the win.
“We’re all very proud of them. They worked their butts off and they’re just a great group of kids,” Howson said.
It was fitting, he said, that the team played its best period of the series in its final period – the third period of Sunday’s game that sealed the championship.
When the playoffs started, he said, the coaching staff encouraged players to count down wins, telling them they needed to win 12 games to win the title.
The Crusaders made their way into the OMHA final by way of another sweep, taking the first three semi-final games against Tweed by scores of 3-2, 4-0 and 6-3. This came after the Crusaders won three of four against Muskoka in the quarter-final.
The team’s playoff run began in Goderich, when the Blyth Brussels team beat Goderich in the Western Ontario Athletics Association AE Group 4 Series B finals, winning the series three games (six points) to two (four points).