High school game preview (ON – SIMCOE) Group of former players save Panthers’ season



      ST. PETER’S PANTHERS                   AT                                ST. THERESA’S THUNDER


The feature game this week in Simcoe County doesn’t necessarily jump off the charts to you on paper. One program  – the St. Theresa’s Thunder – is in the midst of trying to restock its senior program after the loss of much of their core talent, and the other – well – they are why this is the Simcoe County Game of the Week.

That “other” program we speak of is the St. Pete’s Panthers. They are 1-0 on the season, coming off a season-opening victory over the Patrick Fogarty Flames. But, how they got that first win of the young season is the real story, here, and why they’re being profiled this week.

Up until a week into the school year, when most teams had already started practice, the Panthers were still looking for coaches. They had over forty players, but no one able to coach the team because of qualification or availability issues.

That was until a pair of former alumni, including recent graduate Cam Hoekstra and a staff adviser stepped up to the plate to save the season for the hungry group of ball players.

“We wanted the program to run,” said staff Coach Shane Gatrell. “It was just finding the time to practice.  So we practice three times a week at 6 a.m.

“The hesitation was whether or not the players would commit to 6 a.m. practices, and they have! Every morning we have 40 players at the school.”
Taking a deeper dive into the matchup at hand, we find a St. Theresa’s team looking to bounce back from a 37-0 loss to the St. Joan of Arc Knights, and a St. Pete’s squad who may be running short on energy after a convincing 42-0 win on Monday afternoon. This will be the second game in four days for the Panthers, so it will be interesting to see how much is left in the tank for this one.
 Gatrell said he liked the way his team improved as the game went on.
“We competed hard, we learned as we went along in the game, and we got better through each of the 4 quarters,” he said. “We had a few penalties, lazy penalties like holding and offside; we need to clean that up.”
For Thunder Head Coach Mike DeMunnik, his biggest takeaways from Week 1 were the fortitude of his defence, and the lack of offensive flow from his group.
“[Our] defence played well, but can’t play the entire game,” he said. “Our offence didn’t move the ball so our defence was gassed.”
There is plenty to improve on for the Thunder heading into this game, their bench boss said.
“Blocking, tackling, and being the aggressor,” DeMunnik said when asked what his team focussed on in practice this week ahead of their home date with the Panthers. “Know your job.”
On the St. Peter’s side of the ball, their focus this week was fine-tuning a still-developing offensive play package, as well as keeping their secondary active on the field.
“We [worked] on timing with the offence, and with the defence we will be working in tackling and pursuit,” said Gatrell. “We have a few veterans who have helped the process along (of creating a playbook and schemes). “We are keeping it simple and building as the season goes on.”
DeMunnik points out the never-say-die attitude of the Panthers as one of the biggest challenges they present. He also zeroed in on a run game that thrives on one-on-one battles at the line of scrimmage.
“[They have] big tough runners,” the Thunder Head Coach said. “They’re always well-coached and resilient; they never give up.”
From a Panthers’ perspective, they must execute their assignments defensively,. Missed open-field tackles will kill you against the Thunder, says Gatrell.
“St. T’s always plays a tough, fast paced game,” he stated. “If we are not making our tackles in the open field we are going to have  a hard time stopping them.”
The Panthers picked up their first win of the season earlier this week, and with a condensed schedule to begin the season, the value of winning that first game can not be understated.
“It was a big win,” Gatrell said. “Just to show our players that their hard work and commitment is paying off.” To continue their winning ways, he says, they’ll need to keep their miscues to a minimum: “We will need to limit the mistakes, and play a full 4 quarters,” Gatrell points out. “We can’t afford to take any plays off.”
All the things the Thunder didn’t do in Week 1, they need to do in Week 2, in order to be successful, says DeMunnik: “[We need to] play as a team by doing our job,” he said. “The offence needs to move the ball to keep the ‘D’ fresh.
The Thunder are a young team this season, so while winning is certainly important, it’s not as imperative as playing the game and moulding people into talented players.
“It’s always about development,” DeMunnik said of whether winning is the main focus? “Being a varsity team this year, we’ve already got our grade 9 & 10 players in a scrimmage and two games. That game experience early on will help them as the season progresses.

“If we do a good job developing our players then the rest will take care of itself.”

The Thunder understand that mass turnover is a part of the high school game, and that developing an influx of talent at multiple positions is extremely important. Even though this is, generally speaking, an inexperienced group, they’re already beginning to see the results of bringing their youngsters up through the system
Being our sixth year having a program I think we notice when guys leave us,” DeMunnik said. “You’ve had them playing for 4 maybe five years so you get to know them well.  It’s part of the process, but it’s enjoyable to see some of them go off to pursue football at post secondary institutions.
“Now that we’ve had a program for a few years we’re beginning to see guys step into key roles each year-creating a little more consistency from year to year.”
The game between the Panthers and Thunder kicks off at 3:00 pm this afternoon at St. Theresa’s in Midland.
Photos courtesy of: @SMCDSB_PET/Twitter

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