CHICAGO – The familiarity of facing off against the same opponent seven times in the season, or in an extended playoff series for that matter, can breed contempt for the opposing teams.
In the case of Bishop Kearney and Mount Saint Charles, two of the top Catholic high schools in the northeast, that familiarity brings with it a healthy dose of respect among both the coaches and the players.
In the minutes after Bishop Kearney’s hard fought, 4-3, quarterfinal victory, Mount Saint Charles goaltender Ryan Denes stood partially dressed staring through the glass at the empty sheet of ice where minutes earlier he and his teammates left everything they had on the ice. One by one, members of the Bishop Kearney squad walked by, dropped their hockey bags and offered conciliatory hugs and words of encouragement.
That same level of respect runs through both coaching staffs, who gave everything they have to get their teams to this point at the 2022 Chipotle-USA Hockey Tier I 14U National Championship tournament.
“I want to say that was our seventh time playing them this season and that was our first win against them,” said Saints head coach Ben McManama. “We’ve had some battles against them. Frank O’Connor [of Mount Saint Charles] is a great coach. I’ve coached against him and with him for years and he’s always well prepared and his teams are well prepared. They’re so talented and work hard. It’s great for us to get this victory.”
It marked the first time in seven meetings that the Rochester high schoolers got the upper hand on their Rhode Island rivals.
“We’ve been knocking on the door,” McManama said. “We’ve come a long way since the start of the season. I’m really proud of how we’re trending.”
The Saints were trending in the right direction after a pair of goals in the second period by Chase Jette and Blake Arrowsmith had Mount Saint Charles on their heels.
But coming out of the intermission, O’Connor and his staff had their team playing inspired hockey. Three goals from Luke Dow, Egan Beveridge and Conrad Fondrk gave the Rhode Island crew the lead that Denes was determined to protect with a number of acrobatic saves.
That was until Jack Murtagh took his game to another level and put his team on his back. With five minutes left, the fleet forward took a long outlet pass and cruised down the left wing and slipped a wrist shot under the pads of Denes to knot the score at three.
Then, in the final minute of regulation, Murtagh picked up a loose puck off the faceoff and blew past the Mount Saint Charles defense and tucked a backhander home for the game-winner with 50 seconds left.
In the eyes of their coach, it’s just the next step in what has been a seasonlong evolution. Being patient and trusting in the learning process has helped McManama and his coaching staff take the necessary steps to reach this point.
“It’s just been little steps throughout the season and achieving little milestones and little victories here and there throughout the season has really helped us,” McManama said. “We’ve gone from a team that was very immature to a team that’s extremely mature right now.”
The next step comes on Sunday when the Saints take on a tough Shattuck-St. Mary’s team that dominated the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite in a 4-0 victory. The other semifinal will pit the Green Bay Junior Gamblers against the Chicago Mission.
“We’re a team that gets better every week we play,” McManama said. “A lot of it’s just buying into what we want them to do and doing all the little things right. And when we do that we’re pretty successful. I think we’re trending in the right direction right now.”