“We are Family” is a famous song from the 1970s-80s group Sister Sledge. Few songs, movies, and books from popular culture can beat “We are Family” when talking about the 2019-20 Saint Ignatius hockey team.
Not many teams in any sport are ever given the chance to five-peat. The grizzled, veteran Saint Ignatius hockey team will be given their shot at history this season. The Wildcats, under the helm of Head Coach Pat O’Rourke ‘90, have been waiting for months to take another ride with their family.
The family atmosphere of this team is what will set them apart from others in the past. This group of mostly returners who best friends with one another, from the players, coaches, parents, and team managers.
Expect a high-scoring and fast-paced Wildcat offensive attack this season. The Wildcats return seven forwards from last season and have added six new forwards. The Wildcats’ first line - Erik Galauner, Cam Kurtz, and Aidan Millett - is primed for another year of putting pucks past goalies. This will be their second year playing together. Galauner took the world by storm as a sophomore by consistently scoring goals. Kurtz, an alternate captain, is known for his playmaking abilities and will rack up the point totals. Millett always seems to find the puck on his stick and is no stranger to scoring goals when it matters most.
“They were together last year, so they should have good chemistry,” said O’Rourke. “All three of those guys can score.”
Alex Bilardo, Matt Sullivan, and Rory Zawadzki make up the only all-senior line for the Ice Cats.
“This is another power play line,” said O’Rourke ‘90. “They’re an all-senior line and they will be potent.”
Bilardo, known for his scoring ability, has also formed a leadership role with the Wildcats and was named an alternate captain for this season. Sullivan made the jump to the Saint Ignatius hockey program last season and brings a grittiness to the second line. Sullivan also has the ability to score at a moment’s notice, as seen in last year’s state title bout. Zawadzki is the true definition as a veteran and has been no stranger to playing with anyone on this team. Rory’s quick hands and ice vision will make a difference on the second line.
“The line to watch for our fans might be the Cook-Radke-Wilson line,” said O’Rourke ‘90. “They are just as good as the other two lines, but they are penalty killers. We can also sub them into our power play if we want to.”
Coach O’Rourke wasn’t kidding when he said to watch out for this line. The Saint Ignatius third line plays a fast-paced game with some physicality that would make Herb Brooks smile. The difference from this line to most third lines in the sport of hockey is these three know how to score. The Wildcats’ third line provided seven goals last weekend during scrimmages. Danny Cook, the unanimous most improved player of the offseason, has quick hands and a high hockey IQ. Cook’s abilities will help him anchor this line. Christian Radke is a scrappy senior who also knows where to find the puck and has been dishing out the puck to the right place all pre season long. Chuckie Wilson is lightning quick and has the hands to match and perfectly complements his linemates.
Not to be outdone, the Wildcats fourth line, which is full of newcomers, will see their fair share of ice time and surprise other teams. Matt DiMarco, a hard-working senior, boasts a hard shot that will produce either goals or ample rebounds. Joey Morford, a Division I lacrosse commit, is as athletic as they come and is another player who just seems to always be in the right place at the right time. Gordon Gray is a determined junior who plays a physical style and never takes a second off. Gray is a true “Energizer Bunny” as Coach O’Rourke likes to say. Owen Zawadzki brings added skills to this line and has a sneaky hard shot.
“We have the gray line,” said O’Rourke ‘90. “They are an energy line, and have looked good so far playing together.”
Coaches Bryan Schoenholz and Brian Holz will lead the forwards this season. Schoenholz is a long-time member of the coaching staff whose grit and care have gone a long way towards the Wildcats’ success. Holz, a former player of Coach O’Rourke’s, also has tons of respect from the players because much like Schoenholz and O’Rourke, Holz has been known to hop in a drill from time to time and put on a show.
Defensively, the Wildcats are also led by a core group of veterans. Two of the best defensemen in Saint Ignatius history, Michael Boehm and Greg Langermeier, will lead the blueliners. Boehm and Langermeier, the two Wildcat captains, have earned four letters and have seen it all. Boehm, a Michigan lacrosse commit, is a vocal leader in the locker room. Boehm’s shifty play and smart decision-making has made him one of the premier defensemen in the state. Langermeier, who will be returning from injury in a month, is known for his hard hitting and ability to make wizardry with the puck.
“Boehm kind of quarterbacks everything from back there,” said O’Rourke ‘90. “He settles everything down in the D-Zone. He helps break the puck out, carries it up the ice, and he creates and plays 200 feet which is a really nice luxury to have with him at defense. Greg will be out for another month, but once he comes back, everybody knows what Greg does. He changes the game with his physical presence and he can also score. Greg is another guy who can really play up and down the whole ice.”
Charlie Erbs and Clay Gazdak have played together for the better part of four years. Erbs and Gazdak are another special defensive pair. The best of friends, they are two of the most outstanding men you will ever meet. They also happen to be exceptional hockey players. Erbs and Gazdak have formed a special chemistry with one another that translates on the ice.
“Clay and Erbs are paired together a lot,” said O’Rourke ‘90. “They are just rock solid and have improved every year since freshman year. Both do a really good job and are an elite pair of defensemen.
Fresh off the gridiron, the ever-consistent Aidan Conway returns for his third season. From the day he stepped into the locker room as a freshman, Conway has embodied Saint Ignatius hockey on and off the ice. Conway rarely makes mistakes on the ice, and what is even more valuable is that he always makes up for his mistakes.
“We have Conway back,” said O’Rourke. “He is another solid, two-way defenseman for us.”
The Wildcats also add three new defensemen this season. Senior Ryce Federle, formerly the captain of the Cleveland Wildcats Blue team, is consistent with the Saint Ignatius defensemen theme of doing his job correctly. Federle always makes the right play and brings speed defensively. Nathan Klinge, a junior, has a hard shot and has a very long reach with his pokecheck. JT Trobek, one of two sophomores to make the team, has a good set of skills that coaches love in a defenseman and also has great hands despite his young age.
“They all really have done well so far,” said O’Rourke. “They all looked really good in the scrimmages.”
O’Rourke and Robert Gramc will be in charge of the defense this season. Gramc is also the director of Player Development and Personnel for the Wildcats.
Zak Kovatch will be between the pipes for most starts this season. The senior learned under Benny Savarino last season and is primed for his senior season.
“Kovatch is in net,” O’Rourke said. “He will be the starter. He has a really, really high compete level and continues to fight for the second and third rebounds - even in 3 on 0 drills.”
Kovatch is excited for the opportunity to be the starter.
“It’s awesome,” said Kovatch. “Especially being backup last year, it will be nice to start all those games. Last year, I went through all the practices and all the motions and I feel like I’m prepared.”
Kovatch knows that against such a grueling schedule, it will be important to bounce back.
“Mentally responding for me is huge,” said Kovatch. “Usually right after a game it is pretty rough for me as I am very hard on myself because I expect the most from myself. I may be a little down on myself for a while because of a bad goal that I let in, but by the time it comes for the next game I am locked in and that game is gone. The next game is going to be my best game and I am going to come back harder and better.”
Juniors Dawson Mohr and Aidan McLaughlin will back up Kovatch. The two-headed monster will do a good job in games Kovatch doesn’t play. Both goalies started for different teams in the Cleveland Wildcats program last season and posted impressive numbers.
“They are both juniors,” said Coach O’Rourke. “We’ve seen a little bit of Aidan in the preseason and he played very well against Liberty and faced some power plays (including a 5 on 3) and made some key saves. We haven’t seen as much from Dawson as he has been battling an injury.”
Ed Zdolshek ‘09 will be in charge of the three netminders. Zdolshek was a four-year starter under Coach O’Rourke before playing collegiate hockey at Nazareth. Coach O’Rourke went as far as to call Zdolshek “the best goalie coach in the state.”
Coach Joe Geither will be in charge of statistics and O’Rourke’s right-hand man. His sons Liam and Matty enjoyed storied careers as Wildcat forwards and his son Adam is back in town and working successfully in professional sports.
The Wildcats will return four team managers from last season. Jack O’Rourke and Pat Keane will resume their fourth year of managing and broadcasting and don’t plan on missing a game. Mac Spellacy and Max Marazzi will begin their third and final years as managers. Spellacy continues the long line of hockey history at Saint Ignatius. Senior Josh Maciu joins the brigade for this season.
The Wildcats begin their journey this Saturday at 7 pm versus the Pittsburgh Predators. The game, and all home games, will take place at the John M. Coyne Recreation Center in beautiful Brooklyn, Ohio.