Photos/Videos: Jack Verdeur & Jeremy Goode
By: Jeremy Goode
HATFIELD, PA – The La Salle College High School varsity hockey teamed showed why it was the number one seed in the Atlantic Prep Athletic Conference (APAC) playoffs, handling the Hun School easily with a 5-1 win on Wed., Feb. 22, which sent the Explorers to the APAC championship game.
“We wanted to get out hard on them right away,” head coach Wally Muehlbronner said. “In thought we came out strong… I think we were pretty focused.”
It would not be long after the puck drop for La Salle to get on the board. Chase Hannon got a shot off within seconds of the game beginning, followed by one from fellow defensemen Cam Ross. Eventually, Matthew Giordano slithered through The Hun’s School defense, netting a goal in the top right corner at the 14:48 mark to give the Explorers a 1-0 advantage.
When asked about the impact it had on his game in front of the net, goalie Aries Carangi mentioned how crucial it was for this team to get ahead early.
“You start the momentum right of the bat like that; for us to get a goal in the first couple of minutes started the game really well for us,” Carangi said. “We built off that and we were able to keep the momentum on our side for most of the game.”
La Salle would not look back. The team continued to put many shots on net, while also dominating possession and the puck in the Hun School’s zone.
When La Salle needed to call upon goalie Carangi, he deflected and saved everything that came his way.
With 49 seconds left in the first period, Michael Zarzycki scored in front of the net off a rebound, giving La Salle a two-goal lead heading into the second period.
“We came in here having something to prove as the one-seed, so it was good to set the tone, get the first goal, and make everyone comfortable,” Giordano said.
Early in the second period saw a change of pace. The Hun School was able to rattle off some offense, keeping Carangi on his toes for the first five minutes of play. After a shot off the crossbar by the Hun School, La Salle’s Dean Carvalho went the entire length of the ice and buried a shot at the back of the net for the Explorers to go up 3-0.
“We just wanted to use our speed to our advantage,” Muehlbronner said. “They are a bigger, more physical team, so we wanted to play to our strength which is speed and moving the puck.”
The remainder of the second period saw La Salle and the Hun School alternating power plays. Both teams ultimately were able to kill the power plays when they were shorthanded. La Salle would go into the last period up 3-0. After two periods, Carangi had faxed 20 shots on goal, saving all of them.
“I just wanted to take it one save at a time and ultimately get the win,” Carangi said. “It is all about getting the dub for the boys.”
La Salle resumed its offensive in the beginning of the third period, as it put a shot on goal 13 seconds into the period. La Salle’s James Carpenter would net a goal of his own a minute later; the Explorers led 4-0 with just under 16 minutes to play.
The Hun School would find a bit of offense itself over a minute later, scoring to cut the lead to 4-1 on its 23rd shot on net. La Salle would then find itself shorthanded for the next four minutes, fighting off the disadvantage and keeping the game at a three-goal difference.
The next 10 minutes featured more penalties, and even a fight that would give the Hun School a 4-3 advantage, but it was not be able to capitalize. After the Hun School pulled the goalie with four minutes left in the contest, Carvalho would flick the puck towards the net, scoring an empty netter with 2:50 seconds remaining in the semi-final matchup and icing La Salle’s 5-1 win against the Hun School.
Carangi’s final stat line in net saw him record 34 saves on 35 shots.
“It never feels good giving up 35 shots on goal,” Giordano said. “When you have a goalie like Aries out there that can save us like that, it makes you feel a lot more comfortable.”
While Muehlbronner would love to see the number of opponent’s shots go down, he also felt positive about the defense and felt that the shots on net statistic was a bit of an outlier.
“I get concerned when a lot of the shots are high quality shots, and I thought most of them we faced were not high percentage,” Muehlbronner said. “The shots from outside the dots I’m OK with as long as our goalie is seeing the puck.”
La Salle will face Holy Ghost in the APAC championship game this afternoon at 4 p.m. The number one and two seed in the APAC know both teams have strong units, and La Salle will continue to rely on what has gotten it to this point.
“I think we keep doing the same thing that’s been helping us win all year,” Giordano said. “Practice on Monday; keep going hard, and stick to the system on Wednesday."
Holy Ghost Prep turned to its captain Brady Baehser and goaltender Jack Unger to lead the Firebirds past the St. Joseph’s Prep Hawks, enabling Holy Ghost to go to the APAC championship game on March 1.
“It started back in the summer; the coaches trusted me,” Baehser said. “I knew I had to work hard because they were relying on me to come in on big moments and help lead the way.”
After battling several shots on net by the Hawks while they were on the power play, Holy Ghost was able to successfully kill their power play with just over a minute of regulation in the game.
Unger and the defensive lines established themselves early in the game. They had to. Being shorthanded within the first minute and ten seconds forced the Firebirds to stay strong on its own end of the ice. Johnny Lynch and Patrick Sweeney of the Prep had a few scoring opportunities while the Hawks were on the power play.
With both teams played even for the next five minutes, with the Firebirds and Hawks able to trade offensive opportunities and shots. It was not until the 8:19 mark of the first period until one of the teams was able to capitalize.
Nearly nine minutes into the contest, Kieran Mulholland was able to go top shelf for Holy Ghost, getting one past Prep’s goaltender, Rocco Bruno, and giving Holy Ghost a 1-0 led.
Holy Ghost head coach Gump Whiteside thought that the first period really influenced the entire game. He was proud of the first 17 minutes the Firebirds recorded.
“We have not gotten off to that great a start in the last couple of games, but I really liked our start today,” Whiteside said. “Really strong first period, good speed, total team efforts, and I am really happy for the kids.”
The second period saw much offense for the two teams but nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. St. Joseph’s Prep jumped out of the period firing away, as Tristan Winata, Jake Schultz, Joseph Samango, and Sweeney were able to record hard slapshots at net, only to be rebuffed by goalie Unger.
St. Joseph’s Prep’s offensive strike took up the first seven minutes of the second period. Holy Ghost was then able to build some offensive opportunities of its own. Baehser got a strong shot on net that was denied by Bruno. Ciaran Chambers also almost put one in the back of the net, as one of his shots hit off the crossbar and sailed over into the netting above the boards behind the goal.
These two shots for Holy Ghost might have inspired its offense because a few minutes later, Baehser took a breakaway down the entire ice and buried a goal with 6:01 left in the period, assisted by Ryan Lippy.
“That’s a really good goalie; I play with him in club,” Baehser said. “So, I just tried not to overthink it, be confident in myself, and put it in the right spot.”
Baehser’s goal came 19 game minutes after Mulholland’s goal for Holy Ghost in the first period. It gave the Firebirds momentum and a two-goal lead, which felt like a major separation between the two teams.
The Hawks would attempt to battle back, putting up a few shots that Unger handled. With 3:21 seconds left in the second period, Holy Ghost went on the power play and took advantage of having one more skater than the Prep.
Zachary Pers was able to get the puck to the back of the net 37 seconds into the power play. Holy Ghost would hold off the Hawks for the remaining few minutes to go into the third period up 3-0.
“Overall, I thought we managed the puck really well and took the play to them,” Whiteside said. “You do what you need to dictate the play and fortunately for us, we were able to do that for most of the game.”
While Unger had a shutout going into the third period, he credited his defense in front of him for making St. Joseph’s Prep unable to do much offensively during the game.
“I honestly think by far it was the best game of the year by them,” Unger said. “We had a little bit of a rut back in January but they really stepped up this game and as of late.”
Holy Ghost opened the third period on the power play but was unsuccessful in scoring. It maintained control of the puck for the next four minutes, but it nonetheless found itself in a tighter situation after Jeff Hammond scored for the Prep with 10:16 left in the game, cutting Holy Ghost’s led to 3-1.
St. Joseph’s Prep would shortly after go on the power play, only to be denied by a Holy Ghost penalty kill. With just over five minutes left in the game, Baehser officially put the game out of reach, scoring his second goal and giving Holy Ghost a 4-1 win.
St. Joseph’s Prep would finish with only 19 shots on net, and Unger denied 18 pf them. While it was in a way difficult for Unger since he always wants to be active and block shots, his lack of action due to the defense in front of him was a nice break and also a testament to how strong the defense played against the Prep.
“Obviously not having a lot of shots is hard; you got to stay dialed in, you have to stay focused,” Unger said. “Having a strong defensive core in front of you, knowing that if you make the first save they are going to clear that rebound, it’s awesome having a team like that in front of me.”
Holy Ghost Prep will play La Salle in the APAC championship game today at Hatfield Ice in Colmar, Pa.
“We’re not going to get too happy about tonight; we’re going to reset tomorrow,” Baehser said. “We’re going to have some good practices leading up to it, and play our game, do what we have to do.”
Whiteside, with a few more years under his belt than his players, acknowledged that while his squad would get back to work in preparation for La Salle the next day, he understood how significant it was for them to be in the APAC championship.
“We’ll enjoy it tonight,” Whiteside Laughed. “At least for the next eight hours I am going to enjoy it.”