Knights capture home tourney

Everything they’ve touched has turned to gold, but the Fort Frances K of C Knights PeeWee ‘AA’ hockey team will treasure this victory more than most.
Matt DePiero’s empty-net goal with 50 seconds to play Sunday afternoon at the Ice for Kids Arena went from being an afterthought to a game-saver as the Knights nipped the Kenora Thistles 3-2 in the ‘A’ final of their 10-team home tournament.
“It’s the first time we’ve won a home tourney with this group of kids,” Knights’ head coach Don McCool said after his squad captured its fifth tournament title in five tries this season.
“We want every one of these tournaments. But this one is certainly special because it was at home,” he added.
The Knights posted a perfect 6-0 record during the tournament—not a rarity in a season that has yet to see them lose to a Canadian-based PeeWee team.
But in what was anticipated to be another blowout victory in the style of most of their tourney wins, Thistles’ goalie Matthew Kozlowski nearly was a one-man “Miracle on Ice.”
The young netminder made one highlight save after another in trying to keep the Thistles in the game. And in the end, it almost worked.
The Knights were knocked for a loop when Zach McCool, one of their assistant captains and best scoring forwards, was given the heave-ho 4:19 into the game for hitting from behind.
Zach’s brother and team captain Cody McCool immediately stepped up to be the catalyst for the Knights’ first goal, as his forechecking caused a turnover that led to Mitchell Cain blasting a shot low to Kozlowski’s glove side at the 8:24 mark to make it 1-0.
But the Thistles would not back down. Cranking up the pressure in the second period, the visitors badgered Fort Frances to distraction and eventually worked two men free in front of Knights’ goalie T.J. Pocock.
Cameron Cranston was stopped on the first chance, but Carson Dubchuk tucked home the rebound to tie the score 6:57 into the middle frame.
Luke Judson, who came off the ice in pain in the first period after getting a stick in the midsection, then took Cain’s pass just inside the right face-off circle and ripped the puck past Kozlowski with just 22 seconds before intermission to send Fort Frances to the dressing room with the 2-1 lead.
Pocock wasn’t overly tested the rest of the way, but made a timely stop with his mask early in the third with two Thistles players alone in front of him.
DePiero deposited a rebound of Cody McCool’s original shot into the yawning cage with less than a minute to go to seemingly put the game out of reach.
But the Thistles wouldn’t say die, as Liam Chisholm found a hole in Pocock’s armour with 24 seconds left in regulation time, forcing the Knights’ bench boss to call time-out to calm his troops.
“Kenora just showed what Northwestern Ontario hockey is all about, which is never giving up until the final buzzer goes,” Don McCool said.
The Knights held firm, though, mauling Pocock in a celebration they’ve become well accustomed to this season.
< *c>Perfect run
Fort Frances opened the weekend with a 5-2 win over Lake of the Woods (Baudette) on Friday afternoon. DePiero and Cain each scored twice in that one, with Evan McCabe adding a single.
Cody Hasbargen and Jalen Stay tallied for Lake of the Woods.
The Knights’ second outing was a rematch of the ‘A’ final at the previous weekend’s Robin’s Donuts Minor Hockey Classic in Thunder Bay against that city’s Volunteer Pool Bearcats.
Unlike the tense 2-0 result from five days earlier, the Knights controlled this game from the outset, cruising to a 6-1 win.
Zach and Cody McCool each notched a pair of goals while Blake Wepruk and Josh Scott added singles. Cain chipped in with two more assists.
Raymond Piette notched the lone goal for the Bearcats.
Next on the chopping block were the Roblin Park Raiders (Winnipeg), who wound up on the short end of a 7-2 rout by the Knights. DePiero tallied another two goals to lead the way while Judson, Zach McCool, Jordan Sinclair, Cain, and Cody McCool had the others
Dave Taylor and Tyler Page replied for Roblin Park.
Fort Frances then dumped the Dryden Appollos 4-1 in their final round-robin game, with DePiero, Cain, Scott, and McCabe doing the damage on offence.
Kevin Degagne had Dryden’s lone marker.
The ‘A’ side semi-final was an unfair match-up from the start, with the Knights boasting a line-up of all but three players who are age 12 while the West End Bruins were solely a team of 11-year-olds.
The result was a predictable 10-0 annihilation, with Cody McCool wearing the sniper’s hat with a hat trick. Judson added a pair while Joe Basaraba, Scott, Zach McCool, Wepruk, and Patrick Bobczynski netted singles.
The Knights now will gear up for the highlight event of their season—the 12th-annual Hockey Regina Inc. Coca-Cola Classic on Jan. 29-Feb. 1.
A total of 24 teams from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta, and Ontario, split up into eight pools, will take part.
Fort Frances is grouped in Pool “G” with the Regina Kings and the Medicine Hat Ice Dogs.