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ICE HOCKEY: La Salle College High Knocks Off Holy Ghost Prep, Advances to Flyers Cup Finals

By Morgan Killian-Moseley Photos: Zack Beavers, 03/19/24, 3:15PM EDT


By: Morgan Killian-Moseley 

COLMAR, Pa.- The La Salle College High Explorers took another step towards successfully defending their AAA State Championship when they took down the Holy Ghost Prep Firebirds 5-2 at Hatfield Ice on March 14th to advance to the Flyers Cup finals, where they will take on the Malvern Prep Friars. 

The game played out similarly to a regular season matchup the two teams had on the same sheet of ice back in December, where both teams brought the physicality, and the Explorer special teams came up huge for the Blue and Gold.  

Nearly 100 seconds in, LCH had a good opportunity as Alex Fusaro turned a takeaway in the Ghost zone into a give-and-go with Thomas Ducet for a one-timer, but Firebird goalie Jack Unger was up to the task, making the sliding save and preventing a rebound. 

About three minutes later, as LCH was pressing the issue in their attacking zone, Explorer forward James Carpenter delivered a massive hit to Firebird assistant captain Pat Slook that sent Slook crumpling to the ice. The clearance did spring Anthony Valeriote for a rush from the right wing. But Valeriote made one move too many as he crossed the blue line, and the play was whistled offside. 

But Valeriote, who some opponents might describe as a scrappy player and others would describe as an instigator, kept going and crossed paths with LCH’s Declan Kelly, who brought Valeriote to the ice and sent him careening into Explorer goalie Jake Rossi, which lead the Blue and Gold to surge to the defense of their netminder. 

Both Slook and Valeriote were able to get to their feet. Valeriote would stay on the ice, while Slook was checked out on the bench, returning later on. 

Just 40 seconds later, as Kelly was clearing the puck from the La Salle zone, he took a heavy hit from Ghost’s A.J. Prete. Kelly would deliver a retaliatory shot and, as it always seems to go, only the response was noticed by the officials. Kelly was sent to the box for roughing, and Ghost had their first power play opportunity of the night; but while the Firebirds were able to get a few shots on Rossi on the man advantage, none got past him.  

LCH’s Grant LaGreca had an opportunity to open the scoring just past the halfway point of the period, but Unger was once again equal to the task with another sliding stop. Prete had an opportunity nearly two minutes later from the left slot, but Rossi made the kick save with the right pad. 

With less than five minutes left in the 1st, the Explorer forecheck finally cashed in as senior winger Ryan Wiley knocked down a clearance attempt by Firebird captain Mike Holt and ripped a wrist shot under Unger’s stick to net the first marker of the game. 

Ryan Wiley #16 scored the first goal for the Explorers in La Salle's 5-2 victory over Holy Ghost Prep in the 3A Flyers Cup Semifinals - PSD Photo by Zack Beavers

The 1-0 Explorer lead would hold for the remainder of the period, though Fusaro would finish the period in the locker room after receiving a 10-minute misconduct. Fusaro believed he had been hit with a high stick by Slook and pointed towards the box, and no official at any level will tolerate being told how to do their job by the players. 

Less than a minute into the 2nd period, as Rossi went to play the puck, Holy Ghost’s Patrik Oszer made contact with him, sending Rossi to the ice. LCH’s Cameron Ross took exception to that, as one would expect, and delivered a retaliatory shot; getting the gate for crosschecking. La Salle head coach Wally Muehlbronner would, understandably, voice his frustration to the officials; asking why Oszer had not been called for goalie interference. 

But the La Salle penalty kill would alleviate their coach’s frustrations with what some La Salle supporters would call a case of, to borrow a phrase from another sport, “Puck Don’t Lie.” As the Explorers cleared the zone, the forechecking efforts of Carpenter and LaGreca forced a turnover by Unger. LaGreca would pick off the pass on the right wing and get it to Carpenter in front of the net. Despite Unger’s best efforts to recover, Carpenter buried it for the shorthanded goal to give LCH a 2-0 lead. The Blue and Gold would go on to kill off the remainder of the penalty without allowing another shot on Rossi. 

Three minutes later, however, the Firebird power play unit would get another chance as Michael Zarzycki would get sent to the box for crosschecking. And this time Ghost would connect, as Prete fired a wrister from the left slot top shelf past Rossi to cut the HGP deficit to 2-1. Art Myers and Caine Bickel would pick up assists on the play. 

Perhaps Coach Muehlbronner’s efforts to convince the officials to even out the calls bore fruit near the halfway point of the 2nd, as Ghost assistant captain Ryan Lippy was called for goalie interference. Unger made multiple tough stops just past the halfway point of the ensuing power play, but LCH would not be denied, as Ross set up Thomas Doucet off a faceoff win for a blast from the left point that Pat Brace deflected home, bar-down, to give the Explorers a two-goal cushion again. 

Post Game Interview with La Salle's James Carpenter #27, who scored two goals in the Flyers Cup semifinal vs. Holy Ghost Prep - PSD Video by Morgan Killian-Moseley

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

With less than three minutes to go in the 2nd, La Salle delivered another bar-down goal, this one a snipe from Will Gregorio after a failed clearing attempt in the Ghost zone to give the Explorers a 4-1 lead. 

Nearly a minute afterwards, Prete nearly got his second goal of the game on a wrister away from the center slot, but Rossi pulled off a little lefthanded larceny, snatching the shot out of the air, to keep the LCH lead at three.  

Prete and Kelly continued to jaw at each other after the play, and both would get the gate for unsportsmanlike conduct; though only the five-minute variety. The teams would get matching penalties again 22 seconds later, as LCH’s Carpenter and Ghost’s Joe Kaufmann would each be assessed a minor; Carpenter crosschecking, Kaufmann slashing. The teams continued to skate at 5-on-5, though, and the 4-1 Explorer lead would hold going into the 2nd intermission. 

Ghost looked to ramp up the intensity early in the 3rd period, as Firebird captain Mike Holt would deliver a big open ice hit on LCH’s Brace as the latter was making his way towards the net to fire up the Ghost bench and fans. The ensuing rush would yield a power play for Ghost, as Charles Budd got a minor and a 10-minute misconduct for a crosscheck to the head of HGP’s Collin Bara. Bara did return later, but the Firebirds were unable to take advantage of the man advantage, mostly due to the excellent efforts of La Salle to block shots and clog up the shooting lanes in general.  

The action stayed intense, with both teams trading chances, until with just under ten minutes remaining, La Salle’s Ross would get be called for interference. And whether it was for arguing the call or for embellishment, Ross would also receive an unsportsmanlike conduct minor as well. 

With a four-minute man advantage on the way, Holy Ghost head coach John Ritchie called his timeout to gather his troops for their best chance at getting back in the game. And Ghost would indeed step up the efforts on the power play. Just over 30 seconds in, Matt Cholaj found Oszer in the slot, but Doucet slid to keep Oszer from getting the puck to Patrick McCaw, and Gregorio made a diving stab on the loose puck to clear the zone. 

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

Ghost couldn’t get anything home in the first of Ross’s minors, but with just over a minute remaining in the man advantage, Valeriote would find Bickel down low on the right wing, and Bickel would bait a dive from Rossi and fire it up over him to make cut the Firebird deficit back down to two. 

The Explorers would get another chance on the man advantage with just over five minutes remaining, as Kaufmann would get an unsportsmanlike conduct minor for arguing a no-call, but LCH couldn’t come through. 

With 2:31 remaining and an offensive zone draw upcoming, Ritchie pulled Unger for the extra attacker. Off the draw, Rossi made a diving save on Kaufmann and corralled the rebound.  

On the draw that followed, La Salle was able to spring LaGreca on a 1-on-1 on the right wing. But Cholaj forced LaGreca wide, and Kaufmann not only cut off LaGreca’s pass to Ben Falicki, but blocked Carpenter’s shot as well. This sprang a 3-on-1 counterattack, as McCaw, Prete, and Valeriote surged into the zone. McCaw sent it across to Prete for a one-timer. Rossi couldn’t stop it, but the crossbar did. Carpenter was able to scoop up the loose puck and fired it from behind his own blue line all the way into the empty net to seal the win for the Explorers.  

“Ultimately, it’s on me. I’m the head coach and I feel like [we] weren’t prepared, and [La Salle] was, so that’s on my shoulders,” said Ritchie. “I like the way we closed the 3rd period. We had a chance with the goalie pulled that would have made it 4-3 that went off the post, and [La Salle} turns it around and it ends up in the back of our net. Sometimes seasons go that way, and it seems more often than not for us we’re not getting those lucky bounces.” 

“I couldn’t thank my seniors enough for being good teammates and good role models for our group,” Ritchie continued. “This night was for them and, unfortunately, we fell short; but they also deserve to get their recognition, [all 11] of them were top-notch.”   

“I think it starts by playing our team game, we’ve done a good job of that all season,” said Muehlbronner. “We stick to our identity and play to our strengths, and when we do that, we’re a tough team to play against.” 

Muehlbronner added that the penalty kill had been strong all season, but the team prefers to play 5-on-5. 

La Salle nearly doubled Ghost in shots on goal, 37-19. Rossi made 17 saves in the Explorer victory, while Unger made 31 stops on 36 shots that came his way in a valiant effort for the Firebirds. 

LCH went 1-for-2 on the power play. Ghost scored both of their goals on the power play, but also gave up the shorty to Carpenter on the second of six opportunities with the man advantage.