SFX Sports Centre – Beating the 4A provincial men’s basketball champions was a step in the right direction toward another winning season for the Paul Kane Blues.
“We wanted this game,” said Grade 12 forward Ryan Holmes after Thursday’s 60-53 decision against the Jasper Place Rebels to start off the 22nd annual Mike Dea Classic. “This is a big tournament and it means a lot to us to be here this year and this win gives us a lot of confidence.”
Holmes is among six healthy returnees on a surprisingly large 14-player roster.
“We lost our (Grade 12) big man, number 15 Owen Cooke, to an injury (ACL tear in spring league hoops) and that was a big loss to us, but we have lots of depth this year and we're planning on using our full bench, keeping our guys fresh and running the floor hard,” Holmes said.
Last season Paul Kane did everything but win the big game while 21-3 overall and the team's first loss in the metro Edmonton league after 13 wins was in the division two final, 71-69 against the Holy Trinity Trojans.
“All the returning guys still feel it in our hearts losing that game. It meant a lot to us and when we look back on it we use it to motivate us every single game. Every minute counts out there,” said Holmes, one of 10 Grade 12s on the Blues. “It’s also the last season for some of the guys so every game counts even more.”
The lineup includes one rookie, Stefano Marano from the 2019 St. Albert Physical Education Council Tier I junior high champion Richard S. Fowler Falcons, plus five Blues from the 2019 division two finalists in the metro Edmonton league.
One of the graduates was the Big M, Jack MacPherson, who is now with the Alberta Golden Bears.
“We’re a young team and relatively inexperienced,” said head coach Evan Eger. “We’ve got some talent and we’re very skilled, but we need to focus that into a little bit more controlled game plan.”
Paul Kane tipped off the season in Wednesday’s ability round for division one status against the St. Peter the Apostle Spartans in Spruce Grove and lost by a handful of points.
“We fought pretty hard, but we weren’t doing the little things,” Eger said. “We had a week of practice before our first game so we were kind of thrown into the fire which is good, but we didn’t come out with the same sort of intensity as we did today.”
Holmes agreed. “We came out with a lot more energy and drive,” said the six-foot-one hoopster who plays with an emotional edge. “We were kind of rattled in our first game.”
The next two play-in games are Monday at the Leduc Tigers and Tuesday at Holy Trinity and the start times are 5 p.m.
The top three teams in Paul Kane’s pool move up into division one and the bottom team stays in division two.
“We can take a crack at division one if we play to the best of our ability. We have to come out with energy every game, talk and play defence. Everything starts in the defensive end for us,” Holmes said.
Regardless if Paul Kane plays in division one or returns to division two, “We’re still going to try and win a championship,” said Eger, who believes the Blues have the right stuff to compete in division one. “It’s not the end of the world if we’re not in div one, but we want to be there.”
Paul Kane ramped it up against the Rebels after falling behind 14-11 at the end of the first quarter and 19-12 with under five minutes left until halftime. A game-shifting 15-0 run was highlighted by three-pointers in the last minute by Holmes and a pair from Roka Phalen-Baker. The scoring spree started with a three-ball by Jack MacKinnon followed by Phalen-Baker’s layup and John Hessell's free throw before the Rebels replied with a three-pointer to end the first half down 27-22.
Paul Kane continued to drain shots after the break with 11 straight points before the Rebels replied with a bucket with 2:42 left in the period. At quarter time it was 43-29.
“We communicated really well throughout the game. Communication was an issue in our first game so we made sure this game we were talking nonstop all game,” Holmes said. “Transition was also big for us. We played with a lot more energy and we were a lot more loose.”
Holmes was the team’s top scorer with 16 points, Phalen-Baker finished with 15, Kevin Hassell netted 10 and MacKinnon added nine. McKinnon and Phalen-Baker finished with three three-balls apiece.
“We have a nice mix of shooters with guys who can work it inside. Our number 14 big Kev (Hassell) likes to work it down low. He’s got a big body that he can throw around and we surround him with shooters. We’re feeding him low while we're still being able to kick it out and shoot the three,” said Holmes, 17.
The late game Thursday for Paul Kane was the 86-60 loss to the Ernest Manning Griffins of Calgary in the quarter-finals of the 16-team men’s draw.
The result dropped Paul Kane into the bracket to determine the teams finishing fifth through eight.
Paul Kane's last game of the tournament goes today 2 p.m.
The Paul Kane women’s team started off the season on a winning note by downing Leduc 66-51 Thursday at the Mike Dea Classic.
“Everybody was really happy to be back playing a sport they love,” said forward Raeesa Cherniwchan.
Paul Kane led by eight at halftime and after three quarters it was 50-34.
“It was close most of the time and scrappy with lots of running. Both teams were really fast and both teams were really good so it was definitely a good game,” Cherniwchan said.
Bella Gaulden, Jules Froment and rookie Liz Salcedo tossed in 11 points apiece with Froment connecting three times from downtown in the first half.
Cherniwchan tacked up nine points and Kayleena Garda generated seven.
“We started to execute our offence at the end which was really good especially being a young team because we wanted to go through all of our offences,” Cherniwchan said. “We were rotating the ball really well and working through different defences.”
Cherniwchan, 17, is one of six players back from the sixth-place team at the 2019 4A provincials that finished 20-11 overall, including a 9-3 record as the metro Edmonton division one semifinalist.
“We’re a young team, but we're definitely learning and developing. There is a lot of potential so we’re just going to roll with it and learn as we go and have a good season,” said Cherniwchan, a third-year player who will lead by example for the six newcomers, including five Grade 10s.
“I definitely want to bring a sense of leadership and to let the young ones know that you’re going to be in this place eventually and that everyone starts at a certain point so you have to just keep learning and developing. You don’t dwell on your mistakes, you just keep going,” said Cherniwchan, one of four Grade 12s on the Blues
Paul Kane was expected to play the Strathcona Lords in Friday’s semifinal and the score was unavailable at press time.
The result will put Paul Kane in today’s third-place game at 2 p.m. or the 6 p.m. final at St. Francis Xavier High School.