COLUMBUS — Last year, when St. Ignatius and St. Francis met in the state semifinals, many considered St. Ignatius the underdog.
On Sunday, St. Ignatius was considered the favorite. Either way, the result was the same.
St. Ignatius scored just 10 seconds into Sunday’s championship game on the way to a 5-1 victory over St. Francis.
It is the second straight state title for the Wildcats and the fifth in school history.
“It’s awesome,” St. Ignatius head coach Pat O’Rourke said. “It’s hard to do. It’s hard to go back-to-back. Sometimes we talk about our program history, and how 15 years ago we weren’t even in the top 20 in the city of Cleveland. We built it, and it’s come a long way.”
As quickly as it scored in the third overtime Saturday against University School, St. Ignatius topped it on Sunday to open the championship game.
After winning Saturday’s semifinal in the first 11 seconds of the third overtime, the Wildcats scored just 10 seconds into Sunday championship game.
“It was huge because there was a little bit of concern about playing late last night and going three overtimes on what kind of gas we’d have in the tank,” O’Rourke said. “That just gave us an instant jolt of energy and electricity.”
St. Francis won the opening faceoff but immediately iced the puck. St. Ignatius would win the draw after the icing. Connor McGowan shot from the left circle wide, but it caromed off the end boards straight to Seth Whitney, who slapped it home.
“Yeah, 10 seconds into the first period. That’s an early wake-up call,” St. Francis head coach Chris Varga said. “I think it stunned us. As a coaching staff, we were like, ‘Yeah, we’ve been here before. It’s OK. It’s no biggie.’”
St. Francis’ play improved as the first period went on, getting good scoring chances. However, Connor Koehnke would make it 2-0 St. Ignatius as he scored from the left circle at 10:45 on a shot that trickled through St. Francis goalie Jacob Coward.
“I think what really got us was that second goal,” Varga said. “We had so much pressure going on and on and we outshot them two or three to one. We were just going attacking. Then they come down and score and we’re looking at each other like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
St. Ignatius would make it 3-0 just 56 seconds into the second period when Connor McGowan scored. However, McGowan would be called for a boarding major just three minutes later, and St. Francis had its opportunity.
“They have a great power play,” O’Rourke said. “One of our keys was not to take penalties. We took a few today. That was pure effort on the players’ part. They were laying out, blocking shots. The goaltender (Benny Savarino) stood on his head.”
Savarino finished with 35 saves and came within 3:18 of a state title game shutout. He and the Wildcat penalty killers stopped both the five-minute penalty and a subsequent two minute penalty for too many men.
St. Ignatius would put the game away with 90 seconds left in the second when Michael Boehm pounced on a rebound and scored. It was 4-0, and the outcome was all but decided.
For the senior Koehnke, who had two goals, winning a second straight state title was almost indescribable.
“It’s hard to put words to it because it’s something we’ve never done before — I’ve never done before,” Koehnke said. “We’ve got a lot of seniors, but we’ve got a lot of young guys. For me leaving and going out with a bang, but knowing that they’re going to follow it up and work just as hard if not harder in the next couple years, it’s so exciting.”
McGowan, a sophomore, was experiencing a state championship game for the first time.
“The atmosphere was absolutely amazing,” McGowan said. “The game yesterday, in triple overtime, the craziest game I’ve ever played in. To come back and play this game today, it’s just an awesome feeling. To finally raise the trophy at the end, I cannot describe the feeling.”
Varga credited his team for getting farther than some predicted to start the season.
“At the beginning of the year, everyone counted us out,” Varga said. “We went into the season, we didn’t know if we had a goalie for two teams. Coach (Chris) Dyer and I started coaching and working with these kids, and we found something great here.”
Varga got emotional when talking about his eight seniors that won a state title in 2015 and returned to Columbus the next two years.
“A couple years ago, everyone laughed us out of the building when we took a bunch of freshmen and sophomores,” Varga said. “We had something to build on. When we won it in 2015, everybody turned their heads. I don’t think anybody at St. Francis has ever looked back.
“Year after year, the seniors play like seniors. Like I just told them, ‘You guys came in as boys … you’re really leaving as a man.’”
March 12, 2017
At Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
OHSAA Ice Hockey State Championship Game
St. Ignatius 5, St. Francis 1
SI — 2 – 2 – 1 — 5
SF — 0 – 0 – 1 — 1
FIRST PERIOD: Scoring — 1, St. Ignatius, Seth Whitney (Connor McGowan, Connor Koehnke) 0:10. 2, St. Ignatius, Connor Koehnke (Greg Langermeier) 10:45. Penalties — None. SECOND PERIOD: Scoring — 3, St. Ignatius, Connor McGowan (Seth Whitney, Connor Koehnke) 0:56. 4, St. Ignatius, Michael Boehm (Billy Baumann, Bain Kurtz) 13:30. Penalties — Connor McGowan, St. Ignatius (Boarding, major) 3:45; Team, St. Ignatius (Too many men) 9:25; Gabe Barrow, St. Francis (Hooking) 11:07. THIRD PERIOD: Scoring — 5, St. Francis, Blake Storer (Gabe Barrow, Tim Organ, Jr.) 11:42. 6, St. Ignatius, Connor Koehnke (Connor McGowan) (ENG) 12:37. Penalties — Blake Storer, St. Francis (Slashing) 5:23; Bain Kurtz, St. Ignatius (Slashing) 8:49; Benji Rechin, St. Ignatius (Tripping) 10:04; Warren Natyshak, St. Ignatius (High Sticking, major) 14:22.
Shots on goal: St. Ignatius 13 – 7 – 6 — 26. St. Francis 8 – 16 – 12 — 36. Power plays: St. Ignatius 0 for 3, 3 shots. St. Francis 1 for 4, 17 shots. Goalies: Benny Savarino, St. Ignatius (36 shots, 35 saves). Jacob Coward, St. Francis (25 shots, 21 saves). T: 1:48.
Matt Sexton covers high school sports for the News Journal. Follow him on Twitter @ByMattSexton