WINNIPEG, MB - The St. Paul’s Crusaders are provincial champions… again. Yes, it might seem like déjà vu to some, but the 2017-18 team has once again prevailed as the best high school hockey team in Manitoba.
Following an impressive season – the greatest in school history – in which the Crusaders went 23-0-1 in 24 contests, St. Paul’s was handily awarded a bye in the first round of the high school playoffs. Following a quick two-game series victory over Transcona, St. Paul’s beat Sturgeon Heights in the high school championship round two games to one, securing their second-straight Platinum Promotions Division high school championship – their 12th title in the last 16 years.
Beginning in the 2017-18 Winnipeg High School Hockey League season, a major re-shuffling of the classic three-division alignment/makeup saw 14 teams placed in the Platinum Promotions Division – as opposed to the 9-12 teams commonly found in Winnipeg’s top high school league over the past seven years. The Platinum Promotions Division high school city championships also had a tiered approach, with the top six teams competing in the Tier I final, while the bottom eight teams played for the Tier II banner.
The provinicial championship proved to be yet another battle between St. Paul’s and Sturgeon Heights, as the final series served as a re-match from the city championships two weeks earlier. After handling their opening round opponents in two games, the Crusaders dismantled Sturgeon Heights in two games, to take the provincial banner for their third-straight season.
In 27 years running, St. Paul’s has walked away with eight provincial championships at the high school AAAA hockey level.
Led by captain Michael Lee, league point-scoring champion Ethan Lewis, and rookie sensation Lenny Baranyk, the St. Paul’s Crusaders went undefeated in regulation in the regular season, outscoring their opponents 122-33. The Crusaders’ only defeat came in overtime at the hands of Garden City in mid-October.
“We’ve had a pretty historic season,” defenceman Michael Lee said. “I don’t think there has been any other teams that haven’t had at least one regulation loss other than us. But in the playoffs, we knew we needed to stay even-keel. We had to make sure our heads were held high and not get too low so we could stay focused on the task at hand.”
Leading the way offensively was grade 11 student Ethan Lewis, who put together 48 points in just 24 league games this past season, running away with the league scoring title.
“It’s been a really special group this year for sure,” the 16-year-old forward said. “Anytime you go undefeated in regulation in the regular season, it’s pretty awesome. I think we were really tight this year, and I’ve been fortunate enough to play with some really talented guys. The chemistry has been there all season, and I think we have been getting much closer as a group off the ice as of late. Our speed is our biggest asset; when we move the puck and use our feet, that is definitely when we can be the most dangerous.”
Lenny Baranyk – a grade 10 rookie on the Crusaders – knows exactly why his team is sitting firm atop the standings.
“It all comes down to coaching,” the East St. Paul resident said. “This year has been fantastic; the coaches are very passionate about the game and love helping us out. I believe that really shows through how we have been playing. Coach Harder has been a huge part of this team’s success. There are other teams that are also very skilled and wanted to win it just as badly as we do, but we focused on playing our game, which is why we did so well.”
Michael Lee was presented with the Tournament MVP and Player Choice Awards following the series, while Lenny Baranyk and Ethan Lewis were selected as Tournament All-Stars.
Carter Brooks, Manitoba Post