Gallardi enjoying the ride
It’s safe to say no one is appreciating the high school hockey season more than Matthew Gallardi.
The 18-year-old Niagara Falls native came back for Grade 12B this year and suiting up for the Saint Michael Mustangs varsity boys hockey team was at the top of the list of reasons.
“I stayed another year back to play high school and to get my grades up,” Gallardi said after the Mustangs edged the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 8-5 in a Niagara Catholic Athletic Association game Tuesday afternoon at Welland Arena. “I changed my mind what I wanted to do and one of my favourite things in high school is to play hockey.”
Gallardi, who still isn’t exactly sure academically where he will land next year, was thrilled when high school sports were given the green light recently after another COVID lockdown early in 2022.
“It’s great,” he said. “It’s amazing playing back here. It sucked staying at home all the time. It’s great that we can do something other than just around the school.
“It’s awesome getting out and doing stuff now.”
Gallardi, who plays both forward and defence, is relishing his role as a leader.
“I’m the oldest and I’ve played a couple of years so that kind of gave me the role of leader the team and I love taking over and helping the guys out and leading them on to play the best they can,” he said.
Gallardi played AAA and then AA the last couple of years before trying out for the Chippawa Riverhawks this season where he has practised with the team, but not played.
Teammate Christian Blaylock feels the same way.
“Honestly, it’s great,” said Blaylock, who is playing major midget for the Southern Tier Admirals AAA this season. “It’s my last season of hockey and it’s been affected by COVID so it’s nice to be back on the ice playing team sports.”
Mustangs coach John Carmichael said the team was disappointed when both SOSSA (Southern Ontario Secondary School Association) and OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) cancelled their schedules.
“It’s unfortunate for these kids,” said Carmichael, who shares the bench with Paul DiFrancesco, Frank Pietrangelo and Greg Kelly. “We thought we had a really good team this year, a great mix of six or seven Grade 9s and kids on the (Southern Tier) minor midget team and major midget teams. We had a good, quality team and then they cancelled OFSAA and it was a big blow. Not to say we were going to get there, but we had a nice, fast team.”
Regardless, Carmichael said the Mustangs are grateful to be playing at all after a resumption of the season appeared to be in doubt.
“This is what we have. We’re going to play hard and try and win every game and hopefully win the NCAA Catholic title,” he said.
Notre Dame coach Tim Bisci said his charges were champing at the bit to get back.
“It’s a great group of kids. They come out, they work hard, they just want to play,” Bisci said. “They’re always asking if we’re going.
“It’s kind of tough to get some chemistry going but the kids are loving it.”
Bisci said the pandemic has further reinforced how vital extra curricular activities are.
“All the co-curricular activities. Anything the kids are involved in, they miss them so much,” he said. “You want to come to school and get your academics but there’s more to it than academics. These guys are dying to do these things. They want to represent their school and play for them.”
Ethan Pepperall and Jake Salvatore paced the winners with two goals each while Hunter Coley, Dryden Allen, Blaylock and Sonny Piergentile chipped in with singles.
Ethan Raso had two goals for the Irish while Jacob Gaspari, Mark Gibson and Ethan McCarthy added singles.
The Mustangs improved to 2-1 while the Irish fell to 1-3.
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