After winning the Mid-States High School Hockey Challenge Cup Championship, the St. Louis University High team didn’t want their on-ice celebration to end. So the driver of the Zamboni ice resurfacer waited patiently. But he needed to go to work.
As a compromise, the Junior Billikens moved the jubilation to the hallway and locker room under the stands at Scottrade Center, where they had defeated De Smet Jesuit High School 4-0 on March 13.
SLUH’s Matthew Hohl, a senior defenseman, said the feeling was nearly indescribable. “To come four years in a row (to the finals) and finally win with these guys is an amazing feeling,” he said.
De Smet goalie William Oliver put on a puck-stopping show, turning away 25 of 26 shots through two periods. Christian Berger, a junior defenseman at SLUH, converted a slick pass from Nathan Pawlow with 20 seconds left in the second period to give his team a lead. Joseph Winkelmann and Patrick Simoncic scored back-to-back short-handed goals and Kevin Einig added another on a pass from Justin Jacoby.
Berger said his team was ready. “We didn’t take anything for granted,” he said. “We really wanted this.” SLUH last won the Mid-States championship in 2013.
The players had a bad feeling from finishing as runners-up so often, he said. “We were kind of nervous coming down here, but once we got on the ice it was just another game.”
The forwards were persistent, refusing to get frustrated by Oliver’s dazzling play and by missed shots, Berger said. “It was such a great team effort and this is just the best feeling,” he said.
He praised De Smet’s play: “They can hold their heads up high. It was a great game. It just went our way tonight. I have a lot of respect for that team.”
Jacoby, a junior defenseman, said the key to the game was “sticking with it. Just trusting the skill and depth that we have. But their goalie was unbelievable.”
SLUH coach Jack Behan called the season-ending win “a great accomplishment. Our season was going to be defined by winning or losing this game. It was just the perfect ending to an awesome year.”
The players are committed, work hard and are unselfish, Behan said. “They’ve come together. From Christmas on you could tell they had something in mind. They were just relentless. They didn’t care who scored the goals, they just kept going.”
SLUH “is an awesome place, and I can’t be more proud playing for it,” Berger said. Going to Mass and saying prayers before games are important, he added. “As Jesuits, it’s a big part of SLUH and a big part of our program.”
Behan said faith has something to do with his team’s cohesiveness. “We talked about it before the game, about believing in ourselves, believing in what’s important and believing in God. Those things come to fruition in all aspects of life, including athletics.”
De Smet came into the championship game with a 19-6-4 record. Senior Nick Thorpe recorded 12 goals and 14 assists in 24 games in the regular season, while Stephen Randazzo had eight goals and 12 assists. SLUH was 28-1-0 this season, its only loss a 2-1 game won by St. John Vianney High School. SLUH senior and team captain Winkelmann tallied 22 goals and 21 assists in 15 regular season games. Teammate Einig, also a senior, had 18 goals and 18 assists.
To reach the finals, SLUH defeated Chaminade 10-0 and 9-0 in a best-of-three format in the semifinals. De Smet lost its first game to CBC 5-1 on Feb. 24, then won 5-2 on March 3 to tie the series. A one-period mini-game followed, with De Smet winning 2-0 and advancing to the finals. Daniel Kinzel had the winning goal in the tie-breaking game and Nick Thorpe’s empty-netter clinched the win.