Gabe Schwartz wasn’t expected to be playing in the Challenge Cup hockey championship game won with his St. Louis University High School teammates.
In the third playoff game, Schwartz was stepped on, severing a nerve in his wrist. He had surgery four weeks ago.
SLUH head coach Jack Behan choked up a bit recalling that “we went to Mass that day, prayed for him, and for him to be back here is kind of a medical miracle and a real miracle, honestly. So faith had a lot to do with us being here, because he wasn’t supposed to be here. The power of prayer I think got him here.”
He was able to recover enough to make it back fro the championship game, which SLUH won 3-2 in two overtimes vs. De Smet Jesuit High School.
SLUH’s leading scorer with with 15 goals and 22 assists, Schwartz said that “to come back for this game and to win with my team as a senior, it’s really something else to go out like that, back-to-back (titles) no less. It’s truly a blessing and an honor. I’m just happy I could be part of this team.”
Schwartz, a forward who had an assist in the championship game, agreed with his coach that faith “has a huge role at SLUH and in my life. I’m just so thankful I could come back and help my team win.”
Along with the other seniors, he took on the role of mentor, something that was both frustrating because of having so many new players but also rewarding. “We had a couple tough games throughout the season. We really battled through. There was just a great attitude,” he said.
‘A great experience’
Behan noted that only six SLUH players took part in last year’s Mid States Club Hockey Association title game. “It was just a great experience for all these new kids,” he said.
To play another Jesuit high school in the finals is a plus, and his players have a lot of respect for them, he said. “Tip your hat to De Smet, it was a great game.”
His team responded well after De Smet tied the game in the third period, Behan said. “From that time on we just took took control of the game. We kept wearing them down. I just thought eventually we were going to score.”
SLUH didn’t give up, the coach said. “It was a very positive match. No one was down. They just kept plugging.”
Both teams played well defensively with help at times from their goalies. SLUH’s Brendan Rasch faced 19 shots and De Smet’s Jakub Dobes faced 26. The game-winner came on a tip-in by Martin Lyons on a shot by Jack Hazelton. De Smet got goals from Jack Estes and Jacob Kausch.
Patrick Simoncic, a junior forward who scored SLUH’s first two goals in the title game, said he’s proud to be part of a team that won back-to-back titles. His team battled through adversity in the championship game, with De Smet continuing to come back, he said.
The goals were “the most fun in my life,” said Simone, who scored 15 goals and had 12 assists this season. “I’ve got to give it to my teammates,” he said, adding special praise for the seniors’
role during the season.
He has friends who play on De Smet’s team, and he called the match-up “a big-time rivalry.”
Simoncic noted that the Junior Billikens say a prayer before games and “it really gets us focused before the game.”
Alexander Beville, a junior forward with 10 goals and 9 assists, said SLUH’s sought to pressure De Smet with plenty of shots on net and be secure with the puck in the defensive zone. “We kept our composure and knew that if we’d play our game we’d be all right. But it didn’t come easy.”
Steve Walters, an assistant coach for the Junior Billikens, had kind words for each De Smet player as he shook hands with them in a line after the game. He said later that it was “an amazing season and amazing game. The guys (on De Smet’s team) are heartbroken. They gave everything they had. We just got the last bounce. We’re proud to play against the other Jesuit team in town.”
De Smet’s Joshua Abel, a senior defenseman, said the loss “definitely is disappointing. We’re proud of the season. We’re like a family out here. We gave it our best effort but didn’t come out on top this time.”
De Smet gave up only four goals earlier in the playoffs, shutting out Marquette (5-0, 4-1) and defeating Chaminade (4-2, 3-1) to return for a rematch for the Challenge Cup.
Estes, a senior forward, led De Smet with 16 goals and 20 assists. De Smet has won 14 state championships and has finished in the final four 31 times.
As the reigning Challenge Cup Champions, the Junior Billikens allowed just two goals earlier during the playoff run, defeating Priory (4-1, 4-0) and Kirkwood (3-0, 3-1).
SLUH, which has been in the title game the last five years, finished its regular season with a 17-2-1 record, a point ahead of Christian Brothers College High School.
Earlier, Duchesne High School lost 4-2 to Lafayette High School in the Wickenheiser Cup. Vincent Conti and Derek Cagle scored for Duchesne. Duchesne defeated Westminster, then beat Parkway West in the semifinals to reach the championship game. Conti, a senior forward, led the team with 52 goals and 22 assists.