[attach]7272[/attach]As North Toronto Norsemen took the ice for a preseason tilt with Crescent Coyotes ahead of their early-December season opener, they were beginning a new campaign under odd circumstances.
It marked the start of reclaiming their AAAA championship — a year late.
The senior boys’ hockey team won the 2011-12 title, the school’s first city title in 50 years and its first appearance at OFSAA, but withdrawal of extracurricular activities by teachers last season saw the Norsemen unable to defend their title.
St. Peter’s Saints of Peterborough grabbed the 2013 title in March.
The Norsemen easily handled Crescent on Nov. 21, coming away with a 6-1 win at North Toronto Memorial Arena. The usual suspects filled the scoresheet, with Spencer Allen netting a hat trick and Brian Hamm scoring twice and adding two assists. But the team has a markedly different makeup, with only four players — Allen, Hamm, Aric Smith and Keenan McLellan — and coach John Taylor returning from the championship year.
The Norsemen have restocked with young talented kids, many of them in Grade 9, who Taylor is confident can take on the pressure and play exceptional hockey. Still, the cancelled season was tough on everyone, he said before the game.
In their lost season, Taylor’s team kept playing pre-season tournaments and some regular season games in hopes that the season would be saved. Their campaign was officially cancelled by authority of the school board at midseason.
“It was a hit to me personally, it was a hit to the school and it was a hit to the guys,” Taylor said. “For a lot of student athletes, this is what gets them excited to come to school.
“This is the highlight of their day.”
The sting, though, is fading as the lost season grows more distant.
For Allen, a 6-foot-2 centre who also competes with Toronto Marlboros minor hockey club, the focus for this season is about rallying the troops and getting back the championship.
“I think this year we’re coming with the same mentality, knowing we can win,” he said. “We have a good team again, and I think we’re strong and able to win.”
They were strong against the Coyotes, showing assertive offensive skill and going for the body on defence. In addition to Allen’s
hat trick, Hamm’s first period wrist shot that zoomed over the Crescent goaltender Alex McRae was a highlight.
Hamm said there is a cohesiveness that is evident on the current squad.
“Everyone here is great and wants to play their hearts out,” he said. “This is why we wear the logo on our jerseys — to represent our school, our teammates and ourselves.”
Taylor is currently working out the fine details of strategy and conditioning. He maintains a positive outlook on the season.
“This is probably the most Grade 9s we’ve had on the varsity team, so we got some young talent and a nice blend of veterans and young guys,” he said. “I think it depends on how they gel, but things look positive.”