(Updated 3-8-17) The Stepinac High School Varsity Hockey Team is the 2016-17 Catholic High School Hockey League (CHSHL) B Division Champions! The Crusaders attained the B Title, while sustaining an undefeated record of 25-0-1. The Crusaders missed a perfect season only by tying St. Edmund Prep, 3-3, on Dec. 18, 2016.
“As I said before, it is very poetic. If it had to happen, if it had to be scripted, this is exactly how it had to happen,” said Stepinac Head Coach Matthew Hogan.
How “poetic” was the Crusaders Playoff journey to this year’s Championship? Well, it certainly could have been scripted for a CBS Documentary with a theme concerning setting and achieving goals and redemption.
The Crusaders had only one goal this year, which was to win the CHSHL B Championship. Yes, some would say, is not that the goal each year? Yes, but this season the Crusaders goal was set by a lesson to remain focused and redeem themselves, which poetically they were able to achieve.
Two years ago, St. Francis Prep eliminated Stepinac from the Playoffs in the 2014-15 CHSHL Semifinals. This year the Stepinac stickmen beat St. Francis Prep, 2-0, in the Semifinals, which improved their record to 23-0-1.
Last year the Crusaders lost to Xavier High School in the Finals, 2-0. The second and deciding game was played on the Crusaders home ice at Ebersole, with the Knights scoring the Championship goal in overtime.
This year, on Sunday, Feb. 26, the Crusaders defeated the Knights, 5-4 in overtime, in Game One of the Championship series, at Ebersole. The Crusaders then traveled to Bayonne High School, where the seniors on the team had never won a game, and captured the CHSHL B Championship, by beating Xavier 3-2, on their home ice.
Therefore, the Crusaders completed their 2016-17 season undefeated at 25-0-1 and this year got to celebrate on Xavier’s home ice as the CHSHL B Division Champions, as Xavier did on the Crusaders home ice last season. “It was only fitting that we go through Xavier to win the Championship,” commented Hogan.
However, the Championship series win, as all Titles, did not come easy for Stepinac. The Crusaders were not even thinking about coming back to Ebersole for Game Three of the series, if they lost Game Two to the Knights. They were not even thinking about it, when they were losing, 2-1 in Game Two with 1:30 remaining in the game.
With 3:50 left in the game and the Crusaders losing by a score of 2-0, Mike Miano set-up Brandon Waldron, who scored his third goal of the Championship series. Waldron also scored two goals in the first game that the Crusaders won 5-4 in overtime.
Hogan huddled with his team with the score 2-1 and merely 1:30 left in the game. “We got out of the huddle our Captain Jack Maisch came up to me and said, ‘Nick I entirely believe in you, I know you are going to get this goal right now,’ and of course he forgot to add the plural,” revealed senior forward Nick Tabio.
Whether it was Maisch’s display of confidence in Tabio or merely the team’s sense of urgency that superseded all other emotions; Tabio exited the huddle and scored two goals in less than 90 seconds to propel Stepinac to victory. Behind Tabio’s two quick goals, the Crusaders made a remarkable comeback and beat the Knights, 3-2, in Game Two, to win the CHSHL B Championship.
Tabio’s first goal came on a power play with 1:10 left on the clock and his second and winning goal scored with .40 seconds remaining in the game. “I think that definitely shows the chemistry and camaraderie between each member of our hockey team, because down two goals and frustration might be high and intensity might be incredibly high even then we still were able to set our focus and be there for one another,” stated Tabio.
Senior goalie Mike Spano was injured during last year’s Final and could not assist his team in defeat. Therefore, this year’s Championship was even more gratifying for Spano. “Last year I was on the bench injured and knew I could not help my team. This year I knew I could do something about it and I did and we did. It is really amazing,” thrilled Spano, with his trademark big smile.
“It felt really awesome, especially after losing last year in the finals and getting redemption this year,” said Maisch. “Xavier wanted it real bad but we prevailed in the end. We knew we were going to win, we believed,” proclaimed the Crusaders Captain, who will attend Michigan State University next semester.