Head coach Tom Paraskevopoulos made a bold prediction after the Chatham Bantam Outlaws’ historic 2001-02 season.
“You’re not going to see another team like this in girls (hockey) in Chatham, ever,” he said.
So far, he’s right.
None has come close to matching the success of the team that won the Outlaws’ first Ontario Women’s Hockey Association ‘AA’ championship and two Silver Stick championships.
Nine players from that team signed with NCAA schools.
Star forward Meghan Agosta has won three Olympic gold medals and one silver.
“Meghan was definitely a standout player, but there was a lot of talent on the team all around,” teammate Lana Paraskevopoulos said. “It’s just that obviously Meghan was a uniquely special talent, as her record shows.”
The Outlaws are the team inductee in the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019.
Their core had been together for several years. Some were among the first travel players in Outlaws history.
They’d done well before, winning the Silver Silver bantam ‘AA’ championship in 2000-01, and were confident 2001-02 could be a special season.
“All the way through, the girls knew they were competitive with anybody,” manager Tim Dittmer said. “It was just the one year where we said if everybody stays down (in bantam) and doesn’t go up to midget, then we’ve got a chance.”
They went to 10 tournaments that season, winning eight and placing second twice.
They played in the Southwestern Ontario midget ‘AA’ league and won its championship, too.
“They were very little competition for us, I guess is the nicest way to put it,” Lana Paraskevopoulos said about their league foes. “That’s why you saw so many girls from that team with scholarships and playing hockey further down the road.”
Agosta, Amanda Dittmer, Mallory Johnston, Meghan Park, Courtney DeHoey, Stacey Kempson, Amy Allen and Kristie Carneiro signed with NCAA schools. So did Robyn Ruypers, but for soccer.
Johnston later played in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and won four medals, including two gold, at the world ball hockey championships. Carneiro won gold at the 2005 world inline hockey championship.
Ashley Drouillard, Whitney Weisshaar and Andrea Russette played Canadian university hockey. Amanda Anderson opted for basketball at Western, where she became the Mustangs’ all-time leading scorer and an all-Canadian.
“This is one of those extraordinary groups of athletes you see come along once every few years,” Tom Paraskevopoulos told the Daily News in February 2002.
Paraskevopoulos died of cancer at 41 years old the following November, seven months after winning the OWHA banner.
“It was one of the last big things that he and I shared,” said his daughter, Lana. “It was something that we got to do together that was incredibly special and unique. …
“A lot of us are very connected to him. He did so much for all of us in encouraging us and pushing all of the girls to be their best and reach all they can reach in the sport of hockey. It binds us together.”
The Outlaws were a last-minute fill-in for the Silver Stick midget ‘AA’ tournament when a team from Alaska dropped out. They shocked the field of older teams by winning gold.
One month later, they won gold again at the Silver Stick bantam ‘AA’ tournament.
“As far as I understand, we are the only team in the history of the Silver Stick to have done that,” Lana Paraskevopoulos said about the two-title season.
All that success had the Outlaws brimming with confidence for the OWHA tournament in Brampton.
“There wasn’t one that didn’t work and didn’t think that they could win it, especially after winning the Silver Stick in midget and playing in the league,” Tim Dittmer said. “Everything has to go right, and it did.”
The Outlaws beat Ottawa 3-2 in the gold-medal game when Amanda Dittmer scored 55 seconds into overtime. Kempson scored twice in regulation before setting up Dittmer for the winner.
The Outlaws went 4-1-1 at the tournament. Their only loss came after they’d already clinched a playoff berth.
Agosta was held to two goals in six games as teams focused on shutting her down.
“She couldn’t make a move without having one to two players covering her,” Lana Paraskevopoulos said.
But, as the Outlaws proved all season long, they were more than a one-player team. They played great defensively in front of standout goalie Patricia Petrie and were loaded with offensive talent.
“It was an all-around effort by the girls,” Tim Dittmer said. “It wasn’t just one person.”
Wayne Cowell, Bruce Clark, Jeff Allen and Curt Johnston were the assistant coaches.
The Outlaws won more than gold that season. They won stuffed animals, too.
Tom Paraskevopoulos was the Wayne Gretzky of the claw machine – the arcade game that lets players grab prizes from a toy bin.
After a win, he’d sometimes spend 30 minutes in an arena lobby grabbing gifts as the players cheered him on.
“He wouldn’t stop until there was one for every single one of the girls,” Lana Paraskevopoulos said with a laugh. “I can only imagine now in my later years how much money that must have cost him dropping it into those machines.”