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VB Hockey: A Comeback to be Proud Of

By Matt Thompson
Words are hard to find right now. It is hard to try to write something as if it is in the past, when I want to keep this amazing feeling present, I want to stay in this moment. My sense of joy for our boys, pride for our program and school and personal relief for feeling that our job was done well are all working together to make waking up the last couple days to be extra special.
 
The hockey season is full of ups and downs. Teams go through periods of struggles, hit stride at the right time and find success, and honestly at times you can hit periods where you know you need to give your athletes a break from each other because it seems the tension among them is getting high.
 
In many ways our game Sunday in the CPSHA National Championship game had all of these elements. We had some struggles, we had tension, but because of the way we go about things as a team we hit stride at the right moment and never ever allowed ourselves to give up. As a coach, I pride myself on being not just an optimist but a realistic optimist. I have coached enough hockey games to be able to draw on other experiences to make sure that nothing feels impossible, even a 5-2 deficit in a national final. If you want something bad enough and have worked hard enough for it, quitting simply is not an option.
 
Stanstead is a school with a rich tradition, not just in academics but also in athletics and, within that domain, hockey. The CPSHA is made up of like-minded institutions across Canada who value the experience of the boarding student and the student-athlete. For our final weekend, Shawnigan Lake School, Upper Canada College, Ridley College, Stanstead College, Bishop’s College School and Rothesay-Netherwood School all converged in St. Catherines, Ontario at Ridley. If you look up the history of these schools, you quickly see that all of us have been at it for a very long time. Our banquet dinner on Thursday night spoke to the uniqueness of an event where all schools involved are over 100 years old. That is a lot of tradition, a lot of history, a lot of different boarding school ties, and even some bow ties.
 
On the ice we had a shaky start. Despite playing a fairly decent game against RNS and holding a large shot-on-net advantage, the result of the game was not in our favour. In a short tournament this put our backs immediately against the wall. What happened next was a pretty impressive feat, as we won our next three games (all which were must-win games) by scores of 3-0 vs Ridley College, 1-0 vs Upper Canada College and 5-1 vs Shawnigan Lake School. The simple math shows that we gave up 1 goal over three games. We played our brand of hockey and played it well. In particular, I look at our game against Shawnigan and would define our team game as close to perfect. We did the little things well, played for the person beside us and beat another very good team. After a trip with the team to Niagara Falls, it was confirmed that we would face off against Upper Canada College for the national championship.
 
As a coach, you go into these big games trying to find the line between it being another game and acknowledging that it does carry just a little more weight. Two weeks back in our TNPHL finals, we carried too much of that weight on us in the first period and never recovered. Lesson learned, right?
 
Nope… The first couple shifts were back and forth, but as the opening 10 minutes of the first period ticked down, UCC showed more speed and were playing better. It felt similar to me, but we had something to work off. We had been here before, we knew what didn’t work. I felt I knew what other buttons needed to be focused on and we just needed to get out of the first period with our heads up, and we did this. We fell into a 2-0 hole, but by the end up the first we found the back of the net to make things 2-1.
 
I could give a blow by blow of the game, but I will sum it up this way. We were down 2-0, 5-2, and 6-4, but the final score was Stanstead 8, Upper Canada College 6. Momentum shifted from side to side. We had every reason to take on a mindset that it wasn’t our day, but we didn’t ever take our eye off the prize. Our bench got frustrated, but that was out of wanting to succeed. People didn’t like where we were at, and we just needed to find a spark, and we did.
 
Late in the third period with about 8 minutes left, we took the lead and we never looked back, in a shootout of a game I felt like we locked in defensively. We struggled at times throughout this game but we never quit, things didn’t go our way early, but we didn’t allow negativity to take over. It tried to, but leaders lead and people played for each other.
 
Stanstead College is national champions. I love hearing this phrase. I don’t take the work involved to get there for granted, and I know that it is a feeling that only one of the teams on the weekend get to feel. It is an honour, but win or lose, this group of Spartans was always going to be one to be proud of. 2024 has been a magical run. We have found consistency and cohesion, and I think above so many things we are playing for the joy of the game. From the beginning of the year when we honored former coach Peter Boyd to today, 47 hours after the start of the final game at the CPSHA we have had moments, but as Coach Boyd said, and as I said prior to the final game, the opportunity to be a part of the Stanstead family is special. Winning or losing won’t change that, but there is no denying the phrase that champions walk together forever.
 
Enjoy the walk gentlemen, wear your rings with pride, and always remember that what you accomplished you did so as a team of young men who never quit.
 
- A proud Coach T
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