All winter long, Mike Amadio, Blake Speers and Anthony Stefano were trying their hardest to beat each other on the ice with their respective Ontario Hockey League teams. Now, the three Sault Ste. Marie natives are joining forces in an attempt to help the St. Mary’s College Knights senior boys’ soccer team defend its NOSSA title.
Amadio, Speers and Stefano are just three of eight members of the Senior Knights 2014 edition who swap their skates for cleats after an intense winter of high level hockey. Also switching focus to soccer are OHL draft picks Alex Morin and Owen Headrick; Headrick’s Soo Thunderbirds teammates, Brandon Grandinetti and Jaren Bellini; and Nick Trecroce, of another NOJHL team, the Blind River Beavers.
The group of eight will join their teammates Friday at Superior Heights with a berth in the provincial championships on the line.
For Amadio, it’s been a hectic month, to say the least. He is just two weeks removed from battling for the OHL Championship as a forward with the North Bay Centennials. Now, the Knights forward is fighting for another title, what he hopes will be his second in as many years.
“It’s my last year in high school. I know I’ll never get this chance again. Just being able to play high school soccer with my friends for the last time is great,” said Amadio.
Speers, a Grade 11 student, found himself under a huge spotlight all winter as he had to live up to being a first round draft pick of his hometown Soo Greyhounds. Speers lived up to his billing, helping the team win its division and being selected to the OHL’s All-Rookie team at right wing. The SMC midfielder says being on the soccer team is a great way to connect with the school after a grueling hockey season.
“I don’t get much of a chance to take part in a lot of school activities. If I can play one season of soccer in each of my high school years, it gives me a shot to be part of my school at some point, so it’s fun,” said Speers.
Stefano is back in his hometown after his rookie campaign with the Peterborough Petes. For the Knights forward, it’s also an opportunity to succeed at his second favourite sport.
“As a kid, I grew up playing soccer because of my father. I just love the sport. We go out there just like we play hockey. None of us like to lose, so it helps,” said Stefano.
For Coach Greg Guzzo, it is a challenge to formulate team unity in such a short time. But he knows that they have the talent to play a game they’ve grown up with and the ability to excel at it.
“The hockey guys are in great condition. They’re mentally strong as well, so it’s just a matter of catching them up with the skills of the game and the systems. Most importantly, they’re excited to switch to being a student-athlete and putting the Knights logo on,” said Guzzo.
Marc Zappacosta, who is Co-Captain with Grandinetti, spends his winters honing his soccer skills with hopes of making the Carleton University team as a walk-on this fall. But, he knows his hockey-focused teammates know soccer, and once they finish hockey, they are determined to be successful on the pitch.
“We’ve played with each other before, so as soon as they came back, it only took a couple of games. We know each other and we see each other on the field; we know where we’re going to go. We just fit together well,” said Zappacosta.
When all is said and done, these guys want to win, but winning isn’t everything.
“It’s sort of like a time to bond together. It’s our last year in high school and we’ve played together since we were really young, so joining forces again will give us a good memory when we finish high school,” said Grandinetti.
The Senior Knights have won three of the last four NOSSA Championships with other former OHLers on the roster, including Sooites Brett Thompson, Mickey Sartoretto, Brett Perlini and Dave and Mike Quesnelle.