Your family is who you spend time with and who always has your back. They are the people you live and die by, the people you share interests and life with. Family never dies.
Since the end of November, the gray Saint Ignatius hockey team shirt for the 2018-19 season had the word "Family" written on the back. This family spent three practices a week, one film session per week, and countless games together. In other words, this family is always around each other. This family traveled through four different states and two countries. This family grew together to form an unbreakable bond that ended in a state championship.
After beating Holy Name 6-0, the Wildcats spent their last week together preparing for Sylvania Northview. This family knew they had, at most, two last games together, and they were determined to not let anyone send them home without achieving the ultimate goal.
The Ice Cats donned their home white uniforms and graced the ice at Nationwide Arena on Friday for the state semifinal, for what could’ve been their last time together. Benny Savarino, behind his mask, stared menacingly across the ice for what could have been the legend’s final start.
After back and forth play, the two teams were knotted at zero after a few rough minutes of feeling out each other’s playing style. The Wildcats’ quick and hard playing style won out after an early struggle for power.
A leader and playmaker who had made his name known all season cut into the offensive zone. Michael Boehm moved into the zone from the side of the rink opposite the benches and cut into the middle of the slot. Camden Kurtz, a silent yet deadly weapon in the Wildcats’ offense, lingered behind Boehm awaiting his chance. Boehm made a drop pass behind himself to Kurtz, who had enough room to take his time on his shot. Kurtz whipped a shot blocker side and the puck raced into the back of the net.
Kurtz raised his hands in the air as chaos ensued and he jumped into the arms of linemate Aidan Millett.
“Michael came up the ice with speed,” said Kurtz. “He dropped the puck to me and I had a lot of space and I was able to put it in the back of the net.”
Minutes later, after the Northview Wildcats’ goalie saved a shot from the point, the puck squeaked through his blocker to an awaiting Alex Bilardo. The junior with a nose for the net tapped home the rebound and celebrated with his team. Bilardo, just as he did in last year's state semifinal, formed his two arms into a drawn heart and punched through it, similar to a celebration by Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I passed the puck up to Michael and he just threw the puck on net,” said Bilardo. “It hit the post and went right to me, and I knocked it in.”
Before the first period concluded, the Wildcats kept up their constant pressure.
The common theme of rebound goals continued as an Aidan Millett shot was forced loose in front of the net, which resulted in Erik Galauner gaining possession of the puck and finding twine with the rebound. Galauner, the Wildcats’ lone sophomore forward, drew his bow and arrow in celebration of what will surely be a memorable goal.
“I was just standing in front of the net and Millett took a nice shot,” said Galauner. “Millett’s shot was integral in me getting a goal.”
Camden Kurtz put the game away in shades of his brother Bain. Two of the most athletic goals in Wildcat history came from the exact same spot on the ice, only one year apart. As a senior, Bain batted a puck out of the air in the state final last year, in what is one of the most memorable goals in Wildcat history. Cam, not to be outdone, caught a rebound with one hand, knocked it down and jammed a rebound home, improving the Wildcat lead to four.
“Millett took a shot that hit off the goalie and went into the air,” said Kurtz. “I kind of batted it to the ice and chipped it over the goalie’s shoulder.”
A high-powered offense and strong play from Benny Savarino resulted in a 4-0 lead after one period.
A second period powerplay would play a decisive role in the Wildcats advancing to the state final.
Star Wildcat forward Alex Bilardo continued his tear with roommate Cam Kurtz, as Bilardo whipped home a rebound to extend the Wildcat lead to 5-0. Bilardo, who finished the season with 37 points, held a lethal touch in the state semifinal and was a huge contributor in the Wildcat win. Bilardo gave a Joey Bosa-esque shrug following his second period goal.
“A shot came from the point on the powerplay and Joey nicked the rebound,” said Bilardo. “The puck was sitting on the backdoor and I just put it top shelf.”
Outshooting and possessing their opponents, the Wildcats were dominant through two periods, and two of the hardest-working players on the team would add third-period goals.
Matt Sullivan and captain Connor McGowan worked a puck loose to the front of the net, and the Wildcat duo found defenseman Charlie Erbs. Erbs switched the puck between his legs and backhanded a shot past the goalie before falling to the ice.
After the game, Erbs was in shock as he said he did not even know the puck went in until he heard the goal horn at Nationwide Arena, and he had realized he scored.
“McGowan tried passing it to me in the slot and it got tipped,” said Erbs. “It ended up on my backhand and I just hit it toward the net and somehow it went in.”
Later in the period, one of the hardest workers in the hockey program, Pat Eppich, was killing a penalty. As the puck cleared the defensive zone, Eppich found himself with time and space, and as he was taken down from behind, Eppich sniped the goalie with assists coming from Bilardo and Clay Gazdak.
“Truly an amazing experience,” said Eppich. “I didn’t think it was going in until after I saw the net fly, and I didn’t know what to do. Best experience of my life to hear that horn sound and the music start playing.”
Benny Savarino posted his last career shutout, and the Wildcats won 7-0, advancing to the state championship.
The family mentioned above would not let anyone stop them from their mission.
Dublin Jerome, an upstart team who had beaten University School in OT, became the first Central Ohio team in modern OHSAA hockey history to advance to the state final. Jerome, who brought a massive student section and seemed primed for a big finish, ran into a Wildcat buzzsaw.
Almost immediately, the Wildcats family drew first blood in the state title game. Michael Boehm, the Wildcats’ top playmaker, found an apple on the first goal for a second straight game. Boehm made a pass to Matt Sullivan, who had an open shot from the circle. The Gesu graduate found a needle in a haystack, as he exploited a small opening, and Sullivan had the Wildcat faithful going crazy.
“Mike gave me a great pass and I was lucky to get a shot through the D and to the net,” said Sullivan. “I was really happy to get things started early in the game.”
On a first period power play, Erik Galauner cut across the circle and sent a pass down low to Alex Bilardo, who in turn fired a precise pass to Joey Trobenter. Trobenter, in his last game as a Wildcat, sent a no-doubter past the goalie on the blocker side to increase the lead to 2-0 at the conclusion of one period.
Trobenter had a quick turnaround, as he improved the Wildcat lead to 3-0, scoring an early second-period goal.
Following his state semifinal goal, Charlie Erbs responded with another goal in the final. Camden Kurtz sent a pass to Erbs, who switched the puck to his backhand and eluded the Celtic goaltender.
“I blocked the pass and Michael chipped it up to Cam,” said Erbs. “Cam did all the work getting around the guy and moving the puck to me in the slot. I was lucky to beat the goalie on my backhand.”
After Erbs scored, a Wildcat four-peat seemed likely, but the Celtics had an answer to the Wildcats.
The Celtics found the back of the net on a power play and a breakaway goal, and the Wildcats’ lead was reduced to 4-2. The score stood the same at the end of two periods.
In what was undoubtedly his best game as a Wildcat, as Trobenter added a hat trick goal, scoring one in each period. Trobenter sealed the deal on a Wildcat win with his third-period goal, a backbreaker just 20 seconds into the third period.
“I just walked it across the blue line, and ripped it home,” said Trobenter.
Having scored a goal in the state final the year before, Greg Langermeier added a sixth goal, and Camden Kurtz scored as well to take a 5-goal lead.
“We had a nice 3-goal lead, but we weren’t done playing our game,” said Langermeier. “I was trailing Boehmer and he gave me a great pass that I caught and buried inside the post.”
As the third period came to a close, the buzzer went off at Nationwide Arena, and Charlie Klenkar mobbed Benny Savarino. The senior netminder finishes as the school record holder for career saves (1,994), saves in a season (711), and career wins (70).
Congratulations to the Wildcats’ players, coaches, and staff on a well-deserved fourth consecutive state title.