Minor Midget AAA captains Canadé, D.J. King, Damiani, and Fletcher celebrate with Don Cherry.
Seven Septembers ago, a group of kids donned the Mississauga Rebels uniform for the first time. They laced up their skates – maybe with a little help from mom or dad – and embarked on a remarkable minor hockey journey.
Of course, back in 2009 the kids were focused on one thing: playing the game they loved.
And boy, were they ever good.
From the way they approached their first day of training camp to the way they soaked up every bit of information shared by their coaches – hockey dads Tony Canadé, Paul Aguanno, Luc Cugini and Vic Maia – it was clear that something special was brewing.
“I remember that minor atom season like it was yesterday,” Canadé wrote in an email to Breakout. “We entered four tournaments and were crowned champions in all four.”
They completed the season by winning the Kraft Cup and GTHL playoff championships, finishing the 2009-10 campaign with an overall record of 71-6-6.
Not too shabby for a bunch of nine-year-olds.
It was evident to coaches, parents, and rink rats around the GTA, even in that first year, that the “2000 Rebels” had a passion for the game equaled, if not surpassed, by their ability on the ice.
“They were and still are the most driven, competitive, and dedicated group of hockey players I have ever been around,” reflected Canadé, who spent three seasons coaching the Rebels along with the three other dads.
“They set the standard for true teamwork and are best known for playing as a team and not as individuals. That was the secret to their success.”
Whatever their secret was, it worked. The 2000 Rebels won every GTHL playoff championship from 2009-10 to 2015-16. All seven of them.
Oh, and they tossed in six straight Kraft Cup titles along the way, led by a core group that includes seven players who were Rebels from minor atom through minor midget.
Nicholas Canadé, Anthony Aguanno, Cristian Cugini and Thomas Maia – the sons of the four original coaches – don’t know what it feels like to end a season as anything other than champions. Riley Damiani, Teth Wilson-Burles and Jack Hughes also fit that billing (Well, sort of. Hughes played his bantam season with another club).
Markus Klaise skated the first six seasons with the club and James Fletcher joined for the final six campaigns. Mackenzie Chau and three new coaches – Geoff Schomogyi, Dom Amodeo and Matt Craig – signed on in peewee and guess what – they kept on winning.
They won two OHF championships – in peewee and bantam – and captured silver at the event in atom. They won a Silver Stick, a GTHL Challenge Cup and a total of 15 tournaments over seven years before capping their stellar run with a Minor Midget AAA playoff title in April.
But this year will be different. The core of the Rebels is splitting.
Of the 10 players mentioned earlier, six were selected in the OHL Priority Selection in April, including four chosen by the Mississauga Steelheads. (Someone has been paying attention for the past seven years).
“I’ll miss all the guys in the league and the structure of it,” said Damiani, who served as team captain from peewee through minor midget. “[I’ll miss] always knowing the guys you are playing against and having that connection around the league.”
“I loved all of my time with the Rebels, but my favourite time was winning the seventh GTHL championship, even after the adversity we faced during the season and OHL Cup.”
Aguanno and Hughes played with the Rebels as underage players – they were born in 2001 – so they’ll return for another year of Minor Midget AAA.
“Being a Rebel for life is a great feeling,” said Aguanno, who is skating with the 2001 Rebels this season. “I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to have played with great teammates and for a great organization. I’m leaving one great group of teammates to join another with exceptional teammates.”
Aguanno is confident of his chances to win an astounding eighth consecutive playoff title with the Rebels. And he should be – the 2001 Rebels have won back-to-back GTHL playoff titles and three straight Kraft Cup regular season championships.
“We have a really strong group of players combined with excellent coaching,” said Aguanno of his new team. “The 2001 GTHL group as a whole is very strong and we will frequently face top teams. Expect to see some great hockey!”
The ride through minor hockey included more peaks than valleys for the 2000 Rebels, and though it nears its end, Coach Canadé knows it will not soon be forgotten.
“The friendships forged will last a lifetime and the experiences the boys shared together will be forever etched in their memories.”
No matter where life takes them, they’ll always be Rebels.