Two of the best high school hockey teams in Ohio squared off on Thursday night in front of a packed house at Winterhurst Serpentini Arena.
In the end, the Wildcats walked away with a 4-1 win over the Saint Edward Eagles.
The fans were treated to an action-packed game that started out fairly even. Under one minute into the opening period, the Wildcats found themselves in the sin bin. The Wildcats’ penalty kill, now standing 38-for-40 on the year, swarmed the Eagles, but Saint Edward was still able to fluidly move the puck on the opening power play. Benny Savarino stood tall on all the opportunities presented to him, including a point blank shot from the bottom of the circle. Penalty killers Michael Boehm and Matt Sullivan made key contributions to keep the score at zero.
After the penalty kill, Joey Trobenter unleashed a big hit to firmly say where the momentum was to fall for the rest of the period.
Halfway through the first period, Aedan Conway and David Strick used their grittiness to force a puck loose from the corner to the point. Defenseman Charlie Klenkar recovered the puck and made a quick cross-ice pass to Michael Boehm. The junior unleashed a beautiful shot-pass to a crashing Aedan Conway, whose redirection hit the post. While many spectators thought it went in, a hungry Patrick Eppich made sure there was no doubt and jammed the puck home. Eppich triumphantly threw one arm in the air signaling to the far-side of the rink that the Cats had taken the early lead.
“The goal certainly wasn’t expected,” said Eppich. “We just kept getting shots on net and playing the rebounds. One of them had to go in.”
“Michael had a great shot that was very easy for me to tip,” said Conway. “After it hit the post, Eppich battled hard to find the puck and made sure it went in.”
The rival teams traded late-period penalties, but neither team capitalized on their short power plays.
The Cats’ momentum continued into the closing minutes of the first period. Within the final minute of the period, the Cats had an opportunity in the offensive zone. Strong defenseman Aidan Conway ripped a shot forcing an immediate whistle as the puck was covered up by Nate Cappellazzo. The very next faceoff, Camden Kurtz won a faceoff and passed the puck to a wide open Alex Bilardo, but Cappellazzo intercepted the puck and covered it up.
The third time's a charm.
Bilardo won a faceoff to Kurtz. Kurtz made a pass to Conway at the point who ripped a shot on net. Aidan Millett could not quite handle the rebound. Despite good defense from the Eagles, and a narrow miss, Millett kept his head in the play. The puck ricocheted off the boards and Kurtz and Bilardo won another 50-50 battle to Millett. The junior pickpocketed a defender and won the puck back to Kurtz. Kurtz found Millett open in the slot. Millett reached for the puck and in a Herculean effort took a backhanded shot and beat the goalie over the glove.
“Cam made a nice pass and I caught it on my backhand,” said Millett. “I knew I had to get a shot off, I did and it went in.”
The Prep team returned to the locker room leading 2-0.
The Cats killed an early second-period cross-checking penalty, and controlled the puck for much of the second period, getting eleven pucks on net.
The one power play the Wildcats had in the second period produced multiple opportunities and came close to extending the lead. Boehm created constant pressure and teammates Greg Langermeier, Kurtz and Bilardo came within inches of extending the lead.
Bilardo would make his next chance count.
The Eagles broke the puck out and looked to cut the deficit in half. Cutting through the middle of the ice, the Eagles were put to a halt after a thunderous hit by sophomore Aidan Conway.
One minute later, Klenkar picked a puck up in the defensive zone, and eluded two defenders. Klenkar made a hard pass forward to Bilardo. Bilardo cut into the zone and made a move past a defenseman.
Bilardo’s left-handed shot was a laser past the goaltender’s glove side, sending the Wildcats’ student section into a frenzy. Bilardo star-dusted and jumped into the glass next to his classmates.
“I got a nice pass from Klenkar and went down on a two-on-one,” said Bilardo. “The defenseman blocked the passing lane to Aidan Millett on the back door, so I shot it and beat the goalie glove side. It felt surreal to score against our rival and have the chance to celebrate in front of our packed student section.”
The Wildcats’ student section was indeed relentless. Led by Sam LaGuardia ‘19 and Colin O’Malley ‘19, the student section cheered all night long for the Ice Cats.
Soon thereafter, the Eagles won an offensive zone faceoff back to Ryan Dunn. Dunn’s shot from the point was blocked on the way to the net and deflected right to Joe Wilber. Wilber battled for the puck and won it to Matt Smith. Smith’s shot selection was low left side, and he found the back of the net.
“I had an open opportunity to shoot near the crease and I threw it on net,” said Smith. “One thing led to another and it hit the back of the net. It was a good stepping-stone for us to come back.”
Smith’s second-period goal was the one blemish on Benny Savarino’s score card. Savarino stopped 17-of-18 shots, and the two-time starting senior state champion goalie made multiple huge stops on the penalty kill to secure the Wildcats’ win.
“It is always fun to beat Saint Edward,” said Savarino. “It is a feeling that never gets old. I thought I played alright, but the defense was spot on and it was awesome to play in front of a full house.”
The Wildcats held constant pressure in the last three minutes of the second period. The Cats entered the locker room winning 3-1.
The third period was dominated by the Wildcats due to their stamina and constant physicality. The Cats outshot the Eagles 12-2 in the third period.
The first few minutes of the third was all Wildcats. One of the Eagles’ only third-period chances came on an early breakout. The Eagle forward tried to beat Charlie Ellis to the middle of the ice, but Ellis stopped the forward dead in his tracks emphatically. The Eagles eventually put a puck on net on this opportunity, but Savarino made a fundamentally sound save.
Benny Savarino is in consideration for one of the best Wildcat goalies of all time. Savarino is currently 6-0-0 against the Eagles between the pipes, dating back to his sophomore year.
Aidan Conway and Clay Gazdak both continued to play well at defense. Conway and Gazdak are unsung heroes because they don’t light up the net, but the two defensemen kept pucks in the offensive zone all night and extinguished any Eagle chances that came their way.
Kurtz picked up two assists and consistently created chances for teammates all night. Kurtz always seemed to be ready for a puck to come his way.
Langermeier created chances on the power play for the Cats in the third period and overall played a consistent game. Langermeier’s speed in skating the puck up ice clearly showed as did his superb control of the puck.
In the late stages of the third period, Eric Lile cut into the zone and shot a puck from the middle of the slot that went wide of the net. Lile chased his rebound and made a textbook hip check on the boards forcing the puck loose. Rory Zawadzki knocked the loose puck down and cut across the middle of the ice. Zawadzki’s shot from the slot bounced off the goaltender’s pad into the air. Eric Lile channeled his inner Bain Kurtz, as Lile backhanded the puck out of the air and into the open net. Lile’s hand-eye coordination blew the game open. After his goal, Lile drew his bow and arrow and signaled an ending to the contest.
“The goal was just an easy tap in off a nice shot from Z,” said Lile. “Like Coach O’Rourke said, it never gets old beating a rival.”
The Wildcats controlled the puck in the final few minutes and advanced to 6-3-0 with the Thursday night win. The Wildcats opened their Christmas break with a statement win.
“Anytime you win a rivalry game it’s important,” said Coach Pat O’Rourke ‘90. “It was kind of a sloppy game for both teams, but we will take the W and get back to work. We need to play much faster than that to accomplish the things we want to accomplish this year.”
The Cats are back in action Saturday, December 29, at 4:45 p.m. versus the Pittsburgh Predators. The second game of the set is the following day at 11:00 a.m.
In the opening weekend of the season, the Wildcats beat the Predators 3-1, and lost to them 4-2.
The SIBN will cover all the action. Pat Keane ‘20 will join me on the call.