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Monday, February 26, 2024
Sports: ‘They’re all champions,’ coach says of silver medallist NOTL Wolves
Coaches and members of the NOTL Wolves U11 rep hockey team pose with their finalist banner. The banner will hang in the NOTL arena. SUPPLIED

As far as coach Joe Pagnotta is concerned, every one of his team’s 13 players is a winner.

“They’re all champions,” he said after the U11 Niagara-on-the-Lake Wolves rep team took the silver medal at the Ontario Minor Hockey Association championship tournament on Sunday in Barrie.

Competing against some of the best under-11 teams at their level, the Wolves clawed their way into the final but came away on the short end of a 6-2 decision to the Strathroy Jr. Rockets.

“I’m super proud of their accomplishments, not just from this weekend but throughout the season,” he said in an interview.

“Their development has been crucial and it’s been awesome to watch their progress from day one,” he said.

“They work so hard and they just never give up.”

The team roster is comprised of: #4 Hunter Froese, #9 Nello Pagnotta, #10 Charlie Rowaan, #11 Ben Bayne, #17 August Felice, #18 Miller Davis, #19 Luke Simpson, #20 Vincenzo Coppola, #21 Eli Perng, #47 Tennyson Powell, #71 Ryder Kallies, #87 James Froese and #88 Mason Nichols.

Making it to the OMHA tournament was one of the team’s goals eight months ago when they started out.

Pagnotta and his coaching staff of Glen Davis, Derek Nichols and Sean Simpson recognized they had something special in this team and knew they had a chance to make some noise in the playoffs.

But nothing came easy.

They knocked off first-place Thorold in the OMHA qualifiers and then beat the same team again two weeks ago – in a shootout after triple overtime – to win the Niagara District Hockey League title.

They were already going to the OMHA tourney, so that victory was icing on the cake against a very tough Thorold squad.

Arriving in Barrie, they won their first two games in dominant style, beating Mount Brydges 3-0 last Friday morning behind the shutout goaltending of Mason Nichols and then they stormed back from a 1-0 second-period deficit to stun the Midland Centennials 4-1.

That ensured them a spot in Sunday morning’s semifinal but they still had one more round-robin game against the Saugeen Shores Storm on Saturday afternoon.

That game determined who NOTL’s opponent would be in the semifinal but little went right for the Wolves as they were thumped 6-0 by Saugeen.

Then playing at 8:15 Sunday morning against the Tillsonburg Tornadoes, the number 1 team on the other side of the draw, it was unclear what to expect after such a one-sided loss.

Hard work and never giving up could be mottos for the Wolves, who found their game again and beat Tillsonburg 2-1 in double overtime.

Luke Simpson, the team’s hero in their shootout Niagara District victory, scored the winning goal on a wrist shot from the top of the left circle.

Saugeen, meanwhile, lost 6-2 to Strathroy, which set up a battle of the number 2 seeds for the championship.

While only Simpson and James Froese scored for NOTL in the final, Pagnotta said his team never let up and credited every one of his players for helping the team get to the championship.

Though the kids would have much preferred to come home with gold, he emphasized how proud everyone was of what they had accomplished over the season.

“This doesn’t happen every year, to be second in Ontario in their age group, at their level,” he said.

“Some of them will never have this opportunity again. And some people have never had this opportunity, ever.”

“They came out as silver medallists. They should be super, super, super proud of themselves.”

Tournament recap

The Wolves beat Mount Brydges 3-0 in Friday’s first game in what might have been a textbook example of the team’s ability.

“We’re a hard-working team from top to bottom. The energy these kids have is out of this world. It’s awesome to see,” Pagnotta said.

That team defence by everyone on the ice has been a big part of the NOTL team’s success, he said.

The Wolves have plenty of offensive talent, but “I don’t think we’re a flashy team, just a hard-working, productive team. The wheels are constantly moving,” Pagnotta said.

On Friday, James Froese (with the highlight-reel game winner scored while down on one knee on the rush), Luke Simpson and Ben Bayne all found the net against Mount Brydges.

Bayne added two assists, while Simpson and Tennyson Powell had one each and Mason Nichols’ shutout earned him player of the game honours.

In game two, NOTL outplayed Midland throughout, outshooting their opponents 21-9, but the Wolves fell behind 1-0 in the second period after a scoreless first.

Cue the comeback as NOTL stormed back with four unanswered goals.

Simpson scored on his own rebound to tie things up in the second and Hunter Froese rifled a low shot for what proved to be the game winner early in the third.

Eli Perng then split the defence on a rush to make it 3-1.

And August Felice sealed it, scoring on a penalty shot with 4:37 to go.

Perng was player of the game against both Midland and in the loss to Saugeen.

In Sunday morning’s semi, Simpson was NOTL’s hero yet again, scoring in the second overtime period to earn the Wolves a spot in the final.

His goal was an Easter Sunday present of sorts for his mom Stephanie who was celebrating her birthday. He also was named player of the game. Nello Pagnotta won player of the game honours in the final against Strathroy.

That win over Tillsonburg was a huge bounceback for the Wolves after the forgettable 6-0 loss to Saugeen in their last round-robin match.

The Cinderella run ended against Strathroy but, as Coach Pagnotta observed, his team had a season that no one associated with the Wolves will soon forget.



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