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Hockey Spartans start title quest tonight - Mar. 19, 2014

Vern Faulkner
St. Stephen
On Saturday, the St. Stephen Spartans varsity boys hockey team did something it had not done for a decade: claim a playoff banner.
The team claimed the AA southern division finals with a convincing 8-2 win over Hampton Saturday,
But the first banner in 10 years is not enough, said head coach Nick Nozzolillo Monday. Saturday’s game simply set the path for the Spartans to follow as the do-or-die provincial playoff games begin.
“That’s the biggest hurdle, is to try to get the guys now to focus. We have a provincial championship banner to compete for.
“We have a chance – we are three wins from a provincial title.”
Winning the Saturday game allowed the Spartans the right to host a northern squad in a single-game elimination contest Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
“No more second chances. We can’t lose a game from here on out.”
Coming to St. Stephen Wednesday is Southern Victoria, a team the Spartans played in St. Stephen during the annual Flakeboard tournament in December, a game Southern Victoria won 4-3 in overtime.
“We have outplayed them, and we took two penalties in the end of the third period, that put us down shorthanded five-on-three, in overtime,” Nozzolillo recalled, as he called Southern Victoria “well-rounded and physical.”
However, the Spartans of late February and March differ wildly from the Spartans of December. The team has goals by bunches in its last three games, all decisive wins.
“In the game against Hampton, we dominated the game from start to finish, and it really looked like two separate teams. I hope that same hunger to win carries over to the next game,” Nozzolillo stated.
Another key factor: the players on the roster have realized just how good the team, as it stands now, is.
“They realize we have a good team, and a lot of them are starting to believe that we have, if we’re on our game, a chance to win a provincial championship.”
Saturday’s effort saw solid efforts from first line to third.
John Mawer collected two assists – plus, Nozzolillo noted, “a goalpost.”
Grade 12 athlete Brendan Greene centred the third line, which scored critical goals when the game’s outcome was still in doubt.
That kind of roster-deep moxy will be vital for future success.
“I didn’t want any kind of letup, as we were going through,” said Nozzolillo, who noted that although he saw a bit of a fade in energy in the second period, there was not a whisper of the third-period letdowns that plagued the team in the recent past.
As for energy Wednesday night, the Spartans should have plenty: that’s the benefit of the home game afforded to the Spartans by Saturday’s win.
“It’s tough playing on the road, and it’s an advantage … Southern Vic has to travel three hours down, to face our home\town fans, and rink.”