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High School Hockey: St. Rita drops two of three to Carmel, bows out of Kennedy Cup

By Steve Millar
Correspondent

St. Rita came out angry for Game 2 of its Kennedy Cup playoff quarterfinal series with Carmel.

Two days earlier, the fifth-seeded Mustangs were run off the ice by the fourth-seeded Corsairs in a 5-0 loss in which they gave up three first-period goals and were never really in the game.

“It was easy to come out here,” St. Rita goalie Mike Menard said of Game 2 on Feb. 10. “We were ticked off after how it went down on Tuesday. It was a terrible game from everyone. We had a good practice (Wednesday) and we were all loose and more confident.”

St. Rita responded in a big way. Menard had a huge game with 37 saves and the Mustangs topped Carmel, 2-1, at Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood.

The victory for St. Rita (12-10 in Chicago Catholic Hockey League games) set up a decisive Game 3 at Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, a strong defensive effort for two periods withered in the third, and Carmel rallied for a 4-2 victory to end St. Rita’s run in the Kennedy Cup playoffs.

In Game 3, St. Rita took a 1-0 lead into the third period. Scianna scored an unassisted goal in the first period and Menard, who finished with 30 saves, kept a shutout intact for two periods despite the Corsairs outshooting the Mustangs 26-13 over the first 34 minutes.

Carmel, however, exploded for three goals in less than five minutes in the third period, including a pair of shorthanded tallies from Bryce Stensrud and Nolan Herubun. Jack Renn also scored for the Corsairs during the stretch.

Maher found the net for the Mustangs off an assist from Kostelc to make it 3-2 with 5:36 left in the game, but St. Rita could not find the equalizer and Carmel iced it on an empty-net goal from Stensrud with 25 seconds to go.

St. Rita will now turn its attention to the Blackhawk Cup state playoffs, starting with a game against Lyons at 7:55 p.m. Thursday at Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood.

In Game 2, the Mustangs felt more ready to go with their backs against the wall than they did in the series’ opening game.

“Our preparation for the game wasn’t the best,” senior forward Mike Perry said of Game 1.

“We’re all excited it’s the playoffs but we weren’t playing it like a playoff game. “We have to work extra hard in the playoffs and outplay our opponents.”

St. Rita did that in Game 2, but first the Mustangs needed Menard to come up with some big early saves.

The senior, who was named a CCHL All-Star this season, denied Carmel several times in the opening 10 minutes.

He stopped Evyn Jensen on a shot from in close then made a big kick save to deny Kerry Eberhardt, who was open in front of the net off a nice pass from Niko Kempa.

Menard made another save on Eberhardt moments later.

“I definitely got in my groove early,” Menard said. “I was facing a couple shots here and there, not like I was bombarded or anything.”

St. Rita, which was outshot 38-22 for the game, picked up its offense late in the first period and carried it over into the second.

The Mustangs earned the game’s first power play early in the second period and capitalized.

Junior forward Luke Maher played a pass to senior forward Joe Kostelc, who found senior forward Trent Scianna in front of the net. Scianna was able to redirect the puck into the net to make it 1-0 with 11 minutes, 28 seconds left in the second period.

“It’s a crazy feeling when you score like that,” Scianna said. “It’s like you’re invincible after that. For me, and I hope my line mates, I hope they felt the energy.

“We loved it, and that carried us the rest of the game.”

Perry made it 2-0 with 14:58 left in the game, ripping in a one-timer from the slot off a pass from behind the net from junior forward Jacob Moyer. Scianna also assisted on the goal.

“My two linemates were working hard behind the net, Trent and Jacob Moyer, and I was in the slot waiting for them to make a great pass,” Perry said. “They did and I had to bury it.”

Menard and the St. Rita defense kept the shutout intact all the way until 2:45 remained in the game, when Kyler Gornick scored for Carmel.

That was not enough for the Corsairs, though, as St. Rita kept its Kennedy Cup hopes alive, at least for a while.

St. Rita assistant coach Stan Sojka, filling in as head coach for Brian Coleman — who picked up a game misconduct penalty in Game 1 and thus was suspended for Game 2 — tipped his cap to Menard.

“That’s not a 2-1 game without Mike’s effort and that’s been the story of our season,” Sojka said. “Mike’s been the backbone of our team.”

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