A job well done
It’s Day 3 of the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations boys A/AA hockey championship and Billy McLaren’s dogs are barking.
While the bronze medal game plays out on the ice at the Seymour-Hannah Sports Complex Thursday afternoon, the head convenor of the tournament and the head coach of the Denis Morris team is sitting in the lobby in his stocking feet with his boots on the floor in front of him.
“I have put a lot of miles on in the last couple of days and it’s a marathon. It is not a sprint, that’s for sure.”
McLaren’s tournament days started at 6 each morning and ended between 5 and 6 p.m.
He thanked committee members, Frank Cappelletti, Craig Bell, Nikki Royer, Albert Venneri, Tara Kochan, Andy Cecchini, Conner Fusarelli, Anthony DiPaolo and Danny DiLorenzo for making the event run smoothly.
“You definitely need a crew to get it done the right way,” he said. “With good support, you are going to get a great outcome and we have had a lot of compliments from a lot of teams.”
Between 30 and 35 students from Denis Morris helped out and none of the tournament would have been possible without the support of the Niagara Catholic District School Board.
“They allowed us to be here and I still have six or seven staff here today (Thursday) that are making sure everything goes well right to the end and things go off without a hitch.”
It is the fourth time Denis Morris has hosted OFSAA since 2010. The school hosted 40 teams in 2010, 20 teams in 2015 and 16 teams in 2018 and 2023.
“It is a ton of work but this is all for the kids and it is worth it in the end,” McLaren said. “At the beginning of the year, they know we are hosting OFSAA and they buy in. They just love being part of the Reds family and when they buy in like that, it is a very easy thing to do.”
What isn’t easy for McLaren is juggling his coaching and convenor duties at OFSAA.
“For the Mahler Classic we hold and for this one, it is tough because my mind is going everywhere. I’m trying to make sure that the refs are there but Andy Cecchini and Danny DiLorenzo took care of the refs and that was huge,” he said. “The reffing has been fantastic and we have had minimal complaints.”
Luckily for McLaren, he has a strong coaching staff.
“Thank goodness for Matt Vinc and Craig (Bell) and my nephew, Romeao D’Intino. They are doing the pre-game and everything like that. Over the years, we have been able to compliment each other if one’s away. We are able to work things out so at least one or two of us are at every practice and game time is game time.”
McLaren is in his 20th year on the coaching staff at Denis Morris, starting out as an assistant under Chris Zanutto.
“A lot of stuff that I coach with now, I learned from Chris. He is younger than me but he is my mentor. He is a very disciplined and straight and narrow guy and he taught me a lot about coaching. I know hockey but there is a lot of stuff that I learned off of him. It’s don’t recreate the wheel. Just make it better.”
McLaren has been head coach of the team since 2008, one year after they won OFSAA. Under his leadership, the Reds won gold when they hosted in 2010 and have also captured a pair of antique bronze medals.
Coaching is a labour of love for the 54-year-old native of Quebec.
“One of the kids asked me if I liked coaching more than teaching and I told him it was a perk. And he said ‘What? Teaching or coaching?’ I love coaching because the kids love playing hockey and being a part of it is one of my favourite parts of the job,” he said. “It’s not just ‘Hi Mr. McLaren. What’s for homework?’ It’s ‘Are we having practice tonight? What tournaments are we going in?’ They come by and they say hi.”
The program hosts a trivia night every year and many former players come back to take part in the fundraiser.
“We had three tables of former players now that they are of age and they come and enjoy the evening with us. We go out for a couple cocktails afterwards at Cat’s Caboose and it is an eye-opener. You don’t do it for the moment. You do it for the relationships you get out of it.”
McLaren describes the DM hockey philosophy as “all in, leave it all on the ice and if you want to be part of a community, this is the community you want to be in.”
The Denis Morris graduate thanks his brother-in-law, Remo D’Intino, for getting him started towards a teaching career at his alma mater.
“In 1999, I told him I was thinking of going back to school to be a teacher and he said, ‘Who is going to hire you at 34 or 35.’ That was my incentive to get into teaching. He pushed my buttons.”
He teaches social sciences to Grade 9, 10 and 11 students.
St. Michael defeated St. Mary’s College 5-4 in overtime to win the gold medal and Paris tripled Regiopolis Notre Dame 3-1 to capture the bronze medal.