Blyth Brussels U15 Rep Crusaders lose heartbreaking OMHA quarterfinal
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The Blyth Brussels U15 Rep Crusaders made it to the quarterfinals of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) Championships over the weekend in Barrie - an impressive showing and a heartbreaking end to a successful season for the team.
The locals won their first game of the tournament on March 31 by a score of 2-0 over the Norwood Hornets, followed by a 4-1 victory that night over the Tillsonburg Tornadoes.
The Crusaders finished first in their group with their two wins, which earned them a game against the Ilderton Jets, who won their play-in game against the Durham Crusaders on April 1 by a score of 3-0. The Crusaders would open the scoring in the second period, but the Jets would pull even in the third period.
The two teams played through three scoreless overtime periods, making for a 75-minute game, and the Jets would win in a shootout, ending the tournament for the locals.
The Jets would go on to lose in the semifinals to the Essa Eagles by a score of 5-2. The Eagles then played Six Nations in the final - after Six Nations defeated the Walkerton Capitals by a score of 3-1 in their semifinal match-up - with Six Nations taking the title with a 3-2 win.
Blyth Brussels Minor Hockey Association President and team coach Brett Fischer said losing in a shootout after so much evenly-played hockey was gutting. No one, he said, wants to lose a game that way, especially after the season the Crusaders have had.
It was around the Christmas holidays, Fischer said in an interview with The Citizen on Monday, that he and the rest of the coaching staff felt the team had greatness in it and set a goal for the players and the parents to end their season at the OMHA Championship tournament. He said the players’ work ethic, raw ability and enthusiasm for doing “the little things” that progress teams and win hockey games made the coaches see something special in their team.
Then, after that conversation and setting that goal, they saw game-over-game improvement that they hadn’t seen in previous seasons.
When the team would fall behind in a game, he said, the players always seemed to find a way back to salvage something from the contest, whether it be an all-out win or a tie that would earn them a point. There was just no quit in the team, he said.
So, when the Crusaders booked their ticket for Barrie for the tournament, he said he wasn’t surprised and knew the team had a good chance of winning some games there, perhaps even going all the way.
The support from the community, both Brussels and Blyth, was fantastic leading up to the tournament, he said, and he could see the players’ elevate their level of play and excitement when in front of a home crowd.
So, when the team travelled to Barrie for the year-end tournament, a change from home games in previous years since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said it wasn’t the same as playing in front of home fans, though those who did make the trip are to be commended for their outstanding support.
He said the change in format, leading up to a year-end, localized tournament keeps teams playing meaningful hockey for the entirety of the season, but what’s lost is playing OMHA Championship games in front of an arena full of home-town fans. “You always want to be able to fill your barn,” Fischer said.
It’s hard to put into words how hard it was for the team, the coaches and the parents to lose in a shootout after a season of so much hard work, but he said it truly is heartbreaking.