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The Frozen Four Awaits for the Ice Cats

By Sean Gerba '25, 03/07/24, 4:45PM EST


After a 6-1 victory in the Regional Final against St. Edward, the Wildcats seek their 8th State Title heading to Columbus.

BROOKLYN, OH - With a formidable opponent standing in their way on their quest to the Frozen Four to get revenge for what happened last season, the Ice Cats had one final game to get there. The Cats, coming off a big 8-1 win against the Benedictine Bengals, were primed and ready to play this Playoff rivalry match. After a long week of practice, a Jim Brennan '85 speech before the game and a walkout for the ages with the bagpipes, both teams were ready to fight it out til the end of the game. 

As the puck was dropped and the Eagles won possession, the sold-out crowd knew they were watching one of the best hockey rivalries they would ever watch in their lifetime. The Oohs and Aahs were everywhere as this game became a real-fast battle, with hits flying left and right and tempers flaring within the first five minutes. This would lead to the game's turning point just seven minutes into the game for the Wildcats. Captain Dario Piazza would go down after a clean but brutal blindside hit. He would not return for the rest of the game, and the Cats would look to their Assistant Captains to lead them through the rest of the game in the year's most important game. 

The Cats also needed other leaders to help them punch their ticket into the Frozen Four. Braden Esenwine and Dom Filizetti would reassure Captain Piazza on and off the ice that they would win and go to the Frozen Four. Esenwine would keep his promise and strike less than two minutes later by getting the faceoff pass and take in on goal, and score on the backhand. 

Not even two minutes later, Zack Baker scored shorthanded on the penalty kill after the Cats got a penalty a minute earlier. The same goal that Esenwine scored was just the opposite for Baker, with an odd-man rush onto the backhand and into the net. With chatter in the crowd about the last goal, the Cats scored another. 

Not even a minute later, the Cats struck again, but this time, it was Neal Bartone. With the puck bouncing around in the slot and no Eagles on their feet near Bartone, he used the goalie screen to put the puck right past Satanek's glove and notch a third in this energetic first period. Even with a three-goal advantage going into the first intermission and the Regional Championship Trophy in sight, the Cats were determined to keep scoring and foot on the gas. 

Not long into the 2nd period, Sam Elwell would find the back of the net after an attempted wraparound from Esenwine getting saved off the line, kicking the puck out to Elwell to score once again for the Cats, forcing the Eagles to make a goaltender change in the heart of the Regional Final. 

SIBN Players of the Game vs. St. Edward: Zach Baker, Neal Bartone and Braden Esenwine

With the student section going wild from all the scoring, the Cats were not done yet scoring. With the Cats closing in on their final destiny, Esenwine was sick of the trash talk and wanted to add another goal to quiet the noise from the St. Edward side. After a poke check for an Eagle defender popped the puck right to Esenwine from Frederick to open up the slot to create the perfect angle for Esenwine to snipe the top corner. 

This would not be all for the scoring as the Eagles would strike late in the second period, cutting the lead to four with a whole period to try for a comeback and keep their season alive. With another intermission to hype either team up, both were ready for the final period of hockey. 

Could a heartbreak comeback happen and ruin the Wildcats' hopes of a frozen four appearance, or would the Cats prevail and close out the game once and for all? It would be the latter, with Nolan Ignacio putting a wrist shot on the net, hoping it would go in from the blue line, hitting nothing but the net, extending the lead to five once again and crushing the dreams of an Eagle comeback. 

This was the last of all the scoring in this game and would help the Wildcats become Regional Champions and punch their ticket to the Frozen Four once again to change the result from last year.

It is the Wildcats' 13th appearance in the OHSAA Final Four, and they will take on the Toledo St. Francis de Sales Knights in the State Semifinal on Friday, March 8, at 1 p.m. from Nationwide Arena in Columbus. 

The winner will advance to the State Championship held on Sunday, March 10, at 1 p.m. at Nationwide Arena. On the other side of the bracket, University School will face Columbus. St. Charles. The Wildcats saw University School twice this season and split the pair. The first game came on December 28, where the Cats fell 4-5 but would bounce back in the GOHL Cup with a 1-0 victory.