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The Ice Cats Are State Champions

By Sean Gerba '25, 03/15/24, 3:30PM EDT


For the 8th time in program history, the Wildcats are State Champions after a 4-1 victory over University School.

COLUMBUS, OH - Back in Nationwide Arena for the second time this weekend, a Sunday matinee hockey game would determine how the week would go for Saint Ignatius High School students back in Cleveland. After an eruption in Rade Dining Hall and the Senior Lounge during the activities period on Friday after the Wildcats won, securing their spot in the State Championship game. 

One of the most coveted prizes in the state was on the line for the Hockey Cats Sunday at 1 p.m. With Nationwide Arena ready after an outstanding Blue Jackets game the day before, both teams were locked and ready for the State Championship. 

The University School Preppers and the Saint Ignatius Wildcats had the honor of playing in this game. The Preppers came into the game at 36-3, and the Wildcats, having arguably the more demanding schedule, came in with a record of 25-8. Having already played twice in the regular season, both teams split the regular season series, with the Preppers winning the GOHL regular season game and the Wildcats winning the GOHL championship. 

Neither of those games mattered here, as these two teams were the only ones left with nothing else to play for. The Wildcats in yellow and the Preppers in black looked fly and ready to play. With a fantastic clean sheet of ice, a packed lower bowl of Nationwide Arena and 45 minutes left in the season for both teams barring overtime, the teams were fired up to play. 

Starting in the first period, the Cats brought the energy and physical part of hockey to the game, with the Preppers just trying to survive and make it to the end of the period. The captain, Luca Garofalo, for the Preppers, would lose his cool late in the first period to give the Cats a power play and open the door for the Cats power play line out there, which was one of the best in the state. 

But it was an unlikely hero who would start the scoring on the power play for the Wildcats. Just out there to stand at the point and put a shot on net, Nolan Ignacio decided he was done playing around and decided to skate through the entire Prepper penalty kill line one and somehow find the puck flip from the backhand to the forehand and flip the puck right over the blocker side of the Prepper goaltender Noah Caballero. 

With 3:29 remaining in the first period, Ignacio scored to put the Cats in the lead at a crucial point of the game. This would help the Cats finish the period with momentum and the crowd behind them for the rest of the period. Cats would lead the shot tally, doubling the Preppers 14 to 7, forcing Caballero to make double-digit saves with 13. 

As for the second period, the Wildcats had more energy coming out of the locker room to start the period. But that momentum got cut down midway through the second, and Bartone was called for a roughing penalty. This would be a turning point for the team as the Preppers could tie the game and bring the momentum back in favor of them, or the Wildcats could kill the penalty, keep the momentum and build upon that. 

Build upon it; they did as the number one penalty kill line got out there to do their job, not looking for a goal but just to kill the explosive Prepper power play. Braden Esenwine had other plans when he found the puck on his stick after poking it away at the blue line of the Cats defensive zone. 

We all knew what he would do, as he had done it with Dario Piazza all year. Slot it in the back of the net. A shorthanded unassisted goal with 4:09 left for Braden Esenwine would be all the scoring for the Cats in the second as they would keep this very explosive attack from University School at a goose egg on the scoreboard. 

The Wildcats would once again double the Preppers in shots on net, winning 8-4 and forcing Caballero to make more outstanding saves to keep his team in the game. However, the second intermission would mostly stay the same between the two teams as the Wildcats came out of the locker room with the same intensity. This would try to be matched by the Preppers coming out for their last period of the season but would fail for now. 

SIBN Players of the Game vs. University School: Braden Esenwine, Dario Piazza, Dom Filizetti and Justin Frederick

The intensity couldn't be matched by the Preppers for even 15 seconds as the Wildcats would win the face-off immediately, look to attack, and score on a perfect pop pass off the pads of Caballero from Elwell to Esenwine once again. Just 18 seconds into the third period, the Cats would extend their lead to three, avoiding the most dangerous lead in all of sports, being up two for the time being. 

This score would stay for the rest of the third period, but it was Sam Wade for the Preppers who would eventually strike with 7:30 to play in regulation, sniping right above Filizetti's glove in a goal that nobody even knew went in. Everyone was shocked watching the replay on the jumbotron of how it even went in. The "Perfect Game" for Filizetti was ruined by a perfect goal from Sam Wade and the Preppers. 

The momentum would not shift as the Cats knew they were just minutes away from a State Championship. With three minutes remaining in the third, the Preppers would pull their goalie to gain a man advantage on offense. However, the Wildcats' defense was rock solid, holding the Preppers at bay. 

After a couple of tries at a long-distance goal with the open net, Justin Frederick scored on an open net with just four ticks on the clock, sending the Wildcat bench and student section into a frenzy. The Wildcats would win the face off and drain the final seconds on the clock. As time expired, the Wildcats stormed the ice, and a mob scene took place near the boards with Filizetti to celebrate the State Championship. 

With the 4-1 victory on Sunday, it was the program's eighth State Title and first since 2019. For Head Hockey Coach Pat O'Rourke '90, it's his seventh title, and he finishes his 19th season at the helm with a 531-158-36 record. 

New records were broken this season; Dario Piazza and Braden Esenwine broke individual game records as Piazza scored seven goals and nine points in a single game, and Esenwine broke the assists record with six. 

Esenwine broke a 12-year record set by Liam Geither '12 in 2012 with the most assists in a season with 57. Dom Filizetti broke the single-season saves record for a goalie with 799, a record previously held by Benny Savarino '19 in the 2018 season.