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ICE HOCKEY: Defending Champs Picking Up Where They Left Off in the APAC & ICSHL

By Morgan Killian-Moseley Photos: Zack Beavers & Luke Gallagher, 01/13/24, 11:45PM EST



Players have already taken the ice and have begun to make their mark on the 2024 hockey season. With the Flyers Cup only two months away, there’s plenty of league play left for teams to make a run and secure a spot in the highly coveted tournament.

In APAC play, the La Salle Explorers picked up right where the team left off last season. The defending APAC Founder’s Cup, 2023 3A Flyers Cup and 3A Pennsylvania State champions currently sit atop of APAC standing with 15 points and an unblemished 5-0 league record. La Salle opened its season on Wednesday, Nov. 15 against Philadelphia Catholic League rival St. Joseph’s Prep, securing a 3-1 victory. The Explorers also handily defeated Malvern Prep 4-1 on Nov. 22 and The Hun School 6-0 on Dec. 6. With three league games remaining against Malvern Prep (1/17), The Hun School (1/31) and St. Joseph’s Prep (2/14) and a non-league slate against The Haverford School, don’t be surprised if the Explorers enter the APAC semifinals on Wednesday, Feb. 21 with a goose egg in the loss column.

Malvern Prep and St. Joseph’s Prep each boast a 2-2 APAC records, followed by Holy Ghost Prep at 1-3 and The Hun School at 0-3.

In the ICHSL-PCL division, Salesianum, the 2023 ICSHL-PCL champions, leads the standings with an 8-2-1 record with 17 points. Last season, the Sallies defeated Father Judge 4-3 in OT to win the championship and have remained dominant. Salesianum opened its season on Oct. 27th, defeating Devon Prep 5-2. The Sallies followed with another close 5-4 win against Father Judge on Oct. 30th. The Crusaders are currently close behind in second place with a 7-3-1 record, also boasting 17 points. The 3-3 tie for the Crusaders was against Salesianum on Nov. 17th.  Devon Prep sits in third at 7-5 and the combined team of Archbishop Carroll and Pope John Paul holds a record of 3-10. In fifth is the combined Shanahan-Coatesville squad (1-11).

There are five additional Philadelphia Catholic League teams that compete in the ICSHL-D2 division. Archbishop Ryan is currently in second place (10-3) followed by Cardinal O’Hara (9-4) who won the 2022 ICHSL-PCL title. Bux-Mont Catholic, which is a team compiled of players from Lansdale Catholic and Archbishop Wood, is in fourth place at 9-4 with 18 points. Roman Catholic holds a 3-8 record in sixth place and another combined team of Methacton-Conwell-Egan sits in eighth place at 0-12.

Lots of hockey is left to be played. Let’s take a look at some key December match-ups.

Strong PK Leads La Salle CHS Past Holy Ghost Prep

By: Morgan Killian-Moseley

COLMAR, Pa.- The defending AAA-level state champion La Salle College High School Explorers struck early and came up strong defensively for all 51 minutes, especially when they were a man down, earning a 3-1 win over the Holy Ghost Prep Firebirds at Hatfield Ice on Dec. 11, pushing their record to 8-1 overall and 4-0 in the Atlantic Prep Athletic Conference.

La Salle’s first goal came nearly three minutes into the tilt, as Declan Kelly was able to rip a shot past Firebird goalie Jack Botthof for his first tally of the season. Nearly two minutes later, the Explorers got their first chance on the power play as Ghost’s A.J. Prete was called for a holding minor but couldn’t take advantage. Just about halfway through the first period, La Salle would get another chance on the man advantage as Pat Slook incurred a minor. But late in that power play as the Explorers were trying to regain the puck in the neutral zone, Alex Fusaro was called for a holding minor.  Not only that, but the Explorers were in the midst of a change when the puck got to one of their sticks; leading to a bench minor penalty also being assessed to La Salle.

Final goal scored by La Salle's Pat Brace to give the Explorers a 3-1 win vs. Holy Ghost Prep - PSD Video by Zack Beavers

This flipped the advantage in numbers and gave Holy Ghost their first power play, which became a two-man advantage when Slook came out of the box 27 seconds later.  Late in the power play the Firebirds did get one past La Salle goalie Jake Rossi- but not the goalie’s best friend. The shot rang off the post, and the Explorers went on to successfully kill off the five-on-three. Ghost’s Joe Kauffman did get a breakaway chance a few minutes later, but LCH’s defense closed off any chance he had of getting a shot away, and the Explorer defense held things there to finish the first period with a 1-0 lead.

La Salle would get their next power play chance about five minutes into the second period as Holy Ghost’s Andrew Morgan received a tripping minor; and they would deliver as Kelly set up Dean Carvalho for a well-placed rip from the slot past a well-screened Bothoff to give the Explorers a 2-0 advantage.  Grant LaGreca, who provided the screen, was also credited with the secondary assist on Carvalho’s goal, Carvalho’s fifth of the season.

Just over five minutes later, the Firebirds would finally respond. Caine Bickell, who had five goals and eight points in four games at the JV level, including a hat trick against Father Judge on November 22nd, connected for his first varsity goal on a give-and-go with Nathan Romer off a takeaway in the offensive zone to cut the Holy Ghost deficit to 2-1 with just under seven minutes left in the second period.

That score would hold through the rest of the middle stanza and for most of the third period as well, as both teams made a concerted effort to get shots to, and traffic in front of, the nets.

Things would get a little bit chippy at times, especially near the crease. Holy Ghost’s Anthony Valeriote would be extra aggressive on loose pucks near Rossi. This, of course, would draw the ire of the Explorers; particularly Michael Zarzycki who would get called for a crosscheck to the head, which would result in a five-minute major and a game misconduct with just over three and a half minutes remaining.

Not only was Zarzycki’s service lost to the Explorers for the rest of the night, with a one-game suspension to follow as well, but La Salle would be spending the rest of regulation on the penalty kill. And major penalties must be served in their entirety, no matter how many goals the team on the power play scores. So, if the Firebirds managed to gain the equalizer, that man advantage would extend into overtime.

Holy Ghost won the ensuing draw, and Botthof headed for the bench. With the extra attacker on, the Firebirds made every effort to try and get that tying goal. But on the flip side, La Salle didn’t have to worry about icing the puck and they were content to play dump-and-chase every time they cleared the zone. And the Explorer forecheck came up huge, as Pat Brace picked off a Holy Ghost pass near the blue line and, in the same motion, fired it into the empty net with 80 seconds left to seal it.

La Salle outshot Holy Ghost 32-23. Rossi made 22 saves, while Botthof stopped 29 of the 31 that came his way.

The Explorers went 1-for-5 on the power play, while the Firebirds’ 0-for-5 performance with the man advantage, including not cashing in on the first period 5-on-3 and on the major at the end of the game may have been what did them in.

“We have four lines and six [defensemen] who all play hard,” Kelly said after the game. “When we go out there and get pucks deep, every single line can put pressure on, and the other team can’t keep up with it.”

Kelly can definitely attest to LCH’s depth, having been on the third line for the Explorers last season. He went on to say that despite how well the Explorers did on the penalty kill that night, they’re still a work in progress, and that team chemistry could improve on the offensive end.

Post Game interview with La Salle head coach Wally Muehlbronner - PSD Video by Morgan-Killian Moseley & Zack Beavers

Post Game interview with La Salle Defenseman Declan Kelly - PSD Video by Morgan-Killian Moseley & Zack Beavers

Post Game interview with Holy Ghost Prep head Coach John Ritchie - PSD Video by Morgan-Killian Moseley & Zack Beavers

“We have a lot of new pieces, so we’re switching up the lines trying to see what works,” said Kelly, “And we’re just trying to... get more goals against these teams. We’re putting a lot of pressure on them and not getting enough goals.”

“I think we did a nice job pressuring the puck when we had the opportunity,” La Salle head coach Wally Muehlbronner said of the Explorer PK. “We were able to get the clears, and we did a nice job of putting the pressure on them once we cleared the puck as well. We didn’t make it easy in their zone, which was a big part of the kill.”

“I don’t think [our offense] was the strongest part of our game tonight,” Muehlbronner added. “We’d been generating a lot more quality opportunities in past games, and part of that was the way Ghost played us. We need to get back to work, simplify things, and hopefully create better opportunities.”

“This team is young, they’re still learning,” said Holy Ghost head coach John Ritchie. “I think we’re better now than we were a month ago, but ultimately it comes down to finishing opportunities. We had some pretty good shots in front of the net, we just didn’t... bury those chances.”

“Power play is an ongoing [issue],” Ritchie added. “They’re so many new guys- we graduated ten seniors- so some of this comes down to chemistry. Plus, our coaching staff is together for the first time, so they’re learning our style, we’re still learning some of their tendencies.” Ritchie went on to add that he believed the younger Firebirds would improve as they become better adjusted to Ghost’s coaching scheme and as they got more ice time.

Judge Dominates Undermanned Carroll-PJP

By: Morgan Killian-Moseley

NORTHEAST PHILADELPHIA- The Archbishop Carroll Patriots, who joined forces with the Pope John Paul II Golden Panthers, could only dress ten players in their Dec. 15th matchup at the Northeast Skate Zone against the Father Judge Crusaders.

The matchup went exactly how you might expect, with Judge scoring three goals in the first two minutes and not looking back; winning by mercy rule 10-0 after two periods.

Owen Myers led the way for the Crusaders with five points- a hat trick and two assists, while Zach Michel added two goals and nearly completed his own hat trick late in the second period. Carlos Rowland and George Whitfield also had a goal and two assists each, with Jason Smaron and Leo Reilly both adding a goal and an assist of their own. Joe Mullen lit the lamp once, assisted by Shawn Miller and Kevin Knecht, and Anthony Casper and Jake Proud chipped in two helpers as well.

Crusader captain Devon Mallon, who picked up an assist on Michel’s first goal, loved the fact that his team took care of business.

“We had a good time out there but still stuck to our game, played our game no matter what the competition is,” said Mallon.

Mallon went on to say his team wanted to keep up the pressure on the forecheck throughout the season, while staying away from penalties after the whistle.

“They play good hockey as a unit every time they’re out there,” said Judge assistant coach Steve Meade about the Crusaders’ effort both that night and throughout the season. “Every single person on this team has contributed [to the team’s success] in a significant way already.”

As for what improvements the team can make as the season goes on, “I think we could be a little bit better at moving the puck faster,” Meade said. “We have the right ideas about where to move the puck and how to move it, we just don’t do it at high enough speed.”

The Patriots could only get five shots on net, and Judge netminder Christian McDonald had little trouble stopping them all for the shutout. Meanwhile, Carroll goalie Landon King had to face a 50-shot bombardment from Judge, and the fact that he hung in and made 40 saves speaks to the resiliency of the Carroll/PJP squad.

“We might be outmatched at times, as we were tonight, but bottom line is these boys come out to fight,” said Carroll-PJP head coach Tom Puhl. “Whether you’re on the right side or the wrong side of it, showing up is the biggest thing. I’m always proud of them for [showing up].”

Ghost Holds on Late for Statement Win Against St. Joe’s Prep

By: Morgan Killian-Moseley

BRISTOL, PA- The Holy Ghost Prep Firebirds had something to prove at Grundy Ice Arena on December 19, and they may have flipped some Flyers Cup ranking committee opinions with their 3-2 win against the St. Joe’s Prep Hawks.

“We saw the Flyers Cup rankings come out and [they had us ranked 8th]”, said Firebirds captain Pat Slook, who scored the first goal of the game. “We don’t think we deserved that at all... we had close games against [higher-ranked teams], and I think we took that personal and we went out there and showed that we could beat the 2-seed.”

Slook’s marker, his first of the season for Ghost, came just over two minutes into the game in a 4-on-4 situation. St. Joe’s Prep had earned the first power play of the game 38 seconds in on a roughing minor to Ghost’s Jake McCaw, but the man advantage was negated by a bench minor when the Hawks were a little too slow on a line change.  On the ensuing faceoff, Slook put back a rebound off a shot from Joe Spadaccino past Prep goalie Jake Aranda. Colin Bara, who won the draw, was also credited with an assist.

Five-and-a-half minutes later the Ghost power play would deliver a quick strike; as Patryk Oszer was able to bury a rebound past Aranda eight seconds into the man-advantage for his first varsity goal of the season to give the Firebirds a 2-0 lead. A.J. Prete and McCaw picked up the helpers on the play.

But Prep wasn’t going to go down quietly.  The Hawks struck back with a power play quick strike of their own, as Tristan Winata would deliver his sixth goal of the year thirteen seconds into the power play with just over six minutes left in the period to cut the Firebird lead down to 2-1. Carter Short and Pat Sweeney were credited with the assists on the play.

Firebirds captain Pat Slook #68 - PSD Photo by Zack Beavers

That lead would hold through the rest of the first period and most of the second as well, until St. Joe’s Prep got themselves an equalizer on a power play breakaway from Cole Gargon. Jack Lynch got the assist on the outlet pass that sprung Gargon for his fourth goal of the campaign for the Hawks.

But Ghost would regain the lead on- what else? - a power play goal. This time it was Joe Kaufmann who buried a rebound from McCaw for his third goal of the season for the Firebirds.

The final 17 minutes saw both teams play a much tighter, cleaner defensive game. The teams had combined for 11 penalties in the first two periods, but each committed only one in the final stanza. However, Ghost’s penalty came with 20 seconds left while Prep had Aranda pulled for the extra attacker. The Hawks did everything they could to get the game to overtime, but the Firebird D came up huge with two blocks in front of Botthof to preserve the 3-2 win.

“I think we need to keep playing as we just did, and not worry about outside stuff,” Slook said regarding how the Firebirds can continue to rise back up the rankings. He also added that the team would like to continue to execute on the power play while cutting down on committing penalties themselves.

Ghost head coach John Ritchie said the final 30 seconds of the game showed what the team did best that night.

“Our guys bought into a team game; being unselfish, blocking shots, and playing a better defensive zone game than we have,” said Ritchie. “The first and second periods have not been good periods for us, so for us to jump out to a 2-0 lead and then be able to hold on- and that’s a really good St. Joe’s team; they’re well-coached and they’ve had a bunch of comeback wins this year-so, our guys to be able to hold on shows that we’re going to keep getting better each week.”

Firebird goalie Jack Botthof made 30 saves in the win vs. SJP - PSD Photo by Zack Beavers

“When our morale was down, we were able to push back,” said Winata. “We were in it until the very end... We weren’t expecting [Ghost] to push back [as hard as they did], but one thing we did well was keep going. Even though we had a bad start we were able to lift ourselves off the ground and keep ourselves in the game.”

“I think our lack of maturity showed up tonight, where we took some ill-advised penalties which really hurt us. We were playing from behind for the majority of the game,” said St. Joe’s Prep head coach Dave Giacomin. “That’s not to take anything away from Ghost, because they’re a pretty good skating team. But when you put yourself in the box as many times as we did, giving up two power play goals, that was the difference in the game.”

Both teams scored twice on the man advantage with Ghost drawing seven opportunities to Prep’s six. The Hawks outshot the Firebirds 32-30, though Ghost had the advantage after the first 17 minutes. Botthof made 30 saves in the win for the Firebirds, while Aranda made 27 stops in the losing effort for the Hawks.

Hawks Rebound in Non-League Contest

On December 22nd the St. Joseph's Prep Hawks hosted Springfield at UPenn in their annual “Pink the Rink” game winning 7-2.

John Lynch notched a short-handed goal to start off the scoring at the 13:52 minute mark to put the Hawks up 1-0. Two minutes later, Springfield’s Danny White tied the game off an assist from Cole Kuzmick.

It was an entertaining first period, with the Hawks scoring again off the stick of Noah Stuhl, assisted by Michael Castelli and Ben Kersun, which was then followed by another tying goal from Devin Hoban of Springfield. This would be the final goal for the Cougars. In the final seconds of the first period, Carter Short scored what would be the Prep’s game-winning goal off an assist from Shane O’Neill.

The second period couldn’t have been more opposite, as no goal were scored.

The Hawks picked up their offensive momentum in the third with Tristan Winata, Patrick Sweeney, Robert McGinn and Short all scoring to make the final score 7-2.