CHICAGO – Nick Iaciancio must feel like Sisyphus. Only in this case, his Providence Catholic hockey team is the rock and New Trier Green is the mountain.
Last year, Iaciancio coached his team to the AHAI state championship, only to lose to the Trevians.
This year, New Trier knocked off the Celtics four times in the regular season. Friday night, they met again, and with the same result. New Trier Green’s 4-2 victory before about 8,500 people at the United Center earned them their 15th state championship.
For the Celtics, champions of the Catholic League for the third time in four years, it was a bitter pill. They had pulled within 3-2 on Jake Vennetti’s 66th goal of the season with 13:32 remaining, and were carrying the play to the Trevians, but New Trier played airtight defense thereafter, collecting an empty-net goal – Michael Graham’s 51st of the season – in the final 30 seconds.
“We were all over them in the third period,” Vennetti said. “Everyone on the bench at the time was, ‘We can do this.’ Just came up a little short, ran out of time.”
Part of that was due to New Trier goaltender Hayden Wieczorek, who stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced, and was on the bench when Providence was awarded its first goal in bizarre fashion. Part of it was because Josh Mooncotch’s first period shot off the crossbar was nearly the only good Celtics chance in the first 17 minutes, Providence doing as much spectating as playing in the opening period.
“That’s a game-changer,” Vennetti said. “If that goes in, it’s a tie game. It’s just frustrating.”
Graham had opened the scoring with his 50th of the year, a wrist shot over Ryan Iaciancio’s left shoulder. New Trier’s Charlie Burton made it 2-0 3:07 into the second.
Then came the weirdest play in memory: Trevian defenseman Gavin Randle backhanding the puck into his open net when left wing Mike Massaro pressured him while a delayed penalty against Providence was about to be called. Massaro was awarded the goal, his 17th.
“Unfortunately, that’s not what I’m going to remember most about this day,” Massaro said. “It’s the end of a long run with these boys, a great four years. It’s tough not to come out on top.”
Providence (54-9) came on as the game evolved, finding openings more often against a defense that only allowed 1.83 goals a game entering the contest.
“We decided we weren’t going to go down without a fight,” Massaro said. “At 3-2, I thought it was ours. We’d get a couple more shifts with that line and we’d get another goal. We just needed to get shots on net and crash the net for rebounds.”
“The third period, we played like we talked about playing,” Nick Iaciancio said. “A little bit was desperation, but it almost worked. The third period was probably our best period. We dominated a couple shifts. It’ll stink today and tomorrow, but come Monday, I think they’ll realize going 54-9, with five losses to (New Trier) is a pretty good year.”
New Trier (67-9, undefeated against Illinois teams) ended up outshooting Providence, 41-27. The Trevians commanded the puck in the first period, taking 19 shots to Providence’s 7, with a 7-3 edge in quality chances, the best of which was Graham’s goal. He took a feed from left wing Kyle Retondo and ripped a wrist shot over Ryan Iaciancio’s left shoulder at 14:19.
The opportunity came about because the open-ice check Providence’s Jack Francis dropped on New Trier’s R.J. Meyer sent Meyer into the boards, handing the Trevians a power play. Francis was docked another 10 minutes for gloating about the check.
Just 66 seconds later, Mooncotch’s shot plinked off the crossbar.
“Everyone said they were the best team in (Illinois) high school hockey in 15 years,” Ryan Iaciancio said. “We knew we’d have to play our best game.”
“This is one of the best teams I’ve ever coached,” New Trier coach Bob Melton said. “We were deep, had a lot of different line combinations.
While New Trier turns out 120 players at tryouts to Providence’s 42, Massaro thinks the history of the two teams is the main difference.
“They’ve got 15 state championships the last 25 years, and we’ve got none,” Massaro said. “But the way we’ve turned this program around the last couple years, I feel that maybe in 20 years, you’re going to be talking about Providence that way.”