We are currently in the Dog Days of summer in Northeast Ohio; however, Saint Ignatius Hockey is in full stride during their offseason. Over the weekend, they competed in the 2021 Hockey Showcase hosted at OBM Arena in Strongsville. Saint Ignatius competed against three teams this weekend as they would match up against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (MI), Buffalo St. Francis (NY) and University School. The Ice Cats played three games in four days, posting a 3-1 record this weekend and impressing Head Hockey Coach Pat O’Rourke ’90.
“It was a great weekend of hockey, we had three quality teams in town, we had an area team in University School that is a perennial top-10 team in the state, as well as two excellent out-of-town teams in Buffalo St. Francis and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Prep,” explains O’Rourke. “The games were all evenly matched and many came down to the wire. Overall, Saint Ignatius and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s ended up tied atop the leaderboard at 3-1, while Buffalo St. Francis went 2-2 and US went 0-4.”
The Wildcats opened the Showcase against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s at 7 p.m. The match highlighted bone-crushing hit after hit between the Wildcats and Eaglets and made for an exciting night of hockey. The only goal came from the Blue and Gold’s junior Zach Zahoranski with seconds left to play in the first period. Zahoranski made a nice move finding open space for a shot and put it past the Eaglet goalie in the left upper 90 of the net. Junior Jack Utrup was credited the shut out not allowing any goals past him on Friday night.
Heading into the second day of the Showcase, the Wildcats took on Buffalo St. Francis at 11 a.m. The first period would remain scoreless as the Wildcats and Red Raiders showed off their defenses. The Cats would break through in the beginning stages of the second period with a fast-break goal from sophomore Dario Piazza who went top shelf on the Red Raider goalie to make the score 1-0 Wildcats. With 9:18 remaining in the second period, the Red Raiders would tie the game at 1 with a goal that snuck in the left lower 90.
Sophomore Jack Geffert would score his first goal of the Showcase as he found space for a wide-open slap shot to make the score 2-1 Wildcats with seven minutes to play in the second period. Geffert was a member of the Wildcat 15U club last winter as a freshman. Zahoranski would notch his second goal of the Showcase with time winding down in the second period, making the score 3-1 Wildcats heading into the second intermission. Sophomore Christian Sidoti, another member of the Wildcat 15U club, would put a bow on the game with a breakaway goal with under a minute to play as the Wildcats would secure a 4-1 win in the morning game vs. the Red Raiders.
The Ice Cats would have a short turnaround on day two as they would square off against a local rival, University School, at 7 p.m. The Wildcats would generate early offense with a goal by junior Johnny Rodgers, who would sneak the puck under the goalie’s legs to give the Cats an early 1-0 advantage at the 8:52 mark of the first period. The Preppers won the face-off in the Wildcat zone and the defense for the Ice Cats could not adjust in time for the Preppers to tie the game at one with 12 minutes remaining in the second period.
Sophomore Brandon Getz would join in on the scoring action, responding to the Preppers goal at the 11-minute mark on a breakaway goal to make the score 2-1 in the second period. The lead for the Ice Cats would increase in the third period as senior Kevin Mays was able to put one in the back of the net, making the score 3-1 good guys. Hungry for more, Piazza recovered on a ricochet shot by Getz to increase the lead to 4-1 against the Preppers. The Cats would lead and become 3-0 in the Showcase heading into the final day.
The final day of the Showcase saw the Wildcats rematch against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s on Sunday morning. Both teams can pack a punch and that was evident in both games this weekend at the Showcase. The Cats fell behind in the first period 1-0 against the Eaglets, the first time they trailed all weekend. The Eaglets carried that momentum into the second period as they would take a two-goal lead with five minutes remaining before intermission.
The Wildcats would get on the scoreboard near the ten-minute mark of the third period with a breakaway goal by senior captain Owen Zawadski as the Wildcats scored on a short-handed goal. This cut the Eaglets lead to one with plenty of time to mount a comeback in the final game of the Showcase. St. Mary’s would increase their lead off a ricochet shot that got past sophomore Nolan Francis at the three-minute mark. With under a minute to play, the Eaglets would add one more on a breakaway goal as they would defeat the Wildcats 4-1.
“This was a nice checkpoint as we wrap up our summer activities to see where individual players stand and where we stand as a team heading into fall break,” says O’Rourke. “I think it’s safe to say that we are excited about the upcoming season and the results of this weekend only confirmed that for me.”
There was plenty of stand-out performers this weekend for O’Rourke’s Wildcats, as sophomores through seniors got to grab experience before the season begins in the winter. “I was impressed with just about every player who donned a jersey this weekend, from sophomores to seniors; If I had to pick out a few guys who stood out, I’d mention a couple of seniors first - our captain Owen Zawadzki, who was just a bulldog up and down the ice all weekend and scored a short-handed, SportsCenter Top 10-type of goal on Sunday, and Kevin Mays, another 200-foot guy who does it all, does it all with a smile, is tougher than nine dogs, and is supremely coachable,” O’Rourke emphasizes. “Those two guys set the tone for everyone else and their teammates followed. We had balanced scoring; everyone embraced the physicality we’re preaching and it was just a ton of fun to be back on the ice with these guys. I can’t wait until November when we start up for real.”
The start of the high school hockey season will typically be at the end of November, marking the start of winter athletics. However, O’Rourke’s men looked to be in mid-season form despite being in the middle of an off-season. Last season the Wildcats finished 15-8-3 and lost to Rocky River in the District Semifinal. The pandemic was an added obstacle to a significantly young roster that showcased six seniors. This year, the Ice Cats have an entire off-season to prepare for another state title run.
“Our players gained a lot of experience last year and they have done a nice job in the weight room, which showed in their physicality in all four games,” O’Rourke says. “We should be a fun team to watch. My only complaint is that we hit the glass with our shots way too much, but that can be corrected. If these guys continue to work hard and stay positive, we will make some noise this season and be a team to be reckoned with around the state.”
It was a significant week of hockey for Saint Ignatius on and off the ice; not only did the Wildcats go 3-1 in the Showcase, but program alumnus Aidan Spellacy ’16 will continue his college career at St. Cloud State University and continue playing Division I Hockey. We will have a story on Aidan in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!