Fenwick draws even with Saint Ignatius in another OT thriller

By Gary Larsen, 03/01/24

If you had to create a poster that shows how much winning a Kennedy Cup means to players in the Chicago Catholic Hockey League, it might be a shot of injured Fenwick captain Michael Verni crawling off the ice on Thursday, and struggling mightily just to get onto the Friars’ bench.

There was no keeping Verdi on that bench. Ten minutes later, he re-entered the chaos of the second double-overtime game played in 48 hours against Saint Ignatius.

“He’s a senior captain, his dad played at Fenwick, and he just gets it,” Fenwick coach Nick Fabbrini said. “The Kennedy Cup trophy means a lot.”

Two double-overtime games have shown as much. Saint Ignatius won Game One Tuesday on a goal in double overtime from Tiernan Ryan, and Fenwick returned the favor Thursday on a goal in double overtime from Will Pabst.

Winning a Kennedy Cup should be a hard thing to do, and Fenwick and Saint Ignatius have made sure that whichever of them wins the Cup this year, they'll have earned it.

While Verni could have been the poster child for Thursday’s game, Pabst and Spencer Lisek were the heroes in the box score for Fenwick. Pabst scored the game-winning goal with roughly nine minutes remaining in a second overtime, giving his side a 5-4 win and sending the Cup finals to a series-deciding third game.

“I moved it to Michael Verni - who played a great game — and he moved it back down to me,” Pabst said. “I went behind the net and saw their goalie shift to the left so I took it back to right and tried a wraparound. He got his pad back in time but (the puck) was under him, sitting around, and the next thing I saw was like eight sticks jamming away at the puck. I saw it under him and just gave it a good whack. I was just hacking at it, hoping it went in.

“It was going to be a dirty, grimy goal that won this game, and it feels amazing.”

Everyone in Fenwick’s locker room afterwards was singing the praises of Lisek, who had 50 saves in the win against a Wolfpack team that finished with a 54-21 edge in shots. Lisek shined particularly bright in overtime, stopping all 18 Wolfpack shots he faced. Lisek also made 44 saves in Game One.

“We all played a great game, especially Spencer,” Pabst said of his goalie. “He has kept us in it for both games, for sure. He was lights out tonight. In both games, he’s just been absurd.”

Fans were lined up three deep along the glass at the Wolfpack’s home ice inside Fifth Third Arena in Chicago. It was a raucous atmosphere befitting the hunt for the brass ring of the CCHL.

Fenwick held a one-goal lead three times in Game One, only to see Saint Ignatius battle back to win 4-3. The Friars repeated the script, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in Game Two on goals from Dominic Fosco and Arden Tantaro before the game was six minutes old.

And those two goals were scored a mere seven seconds apart.

The first came when Mikey Curtin took a puck through the neutral zone up the right side in transition, and centered a pass to a streaking Fosco. Fosco closed in and went to his forehand at the 10:16 mark to give Fenwick its 1-0 lead.

Fenwick’s Charlie Bastedo won the ensuing draw at center ice and raced behind the Wolfpack’s defense, sliding a pass to his left for Tantaro to one-time it for the 2-0 lead.

Fenwick was elated, but Saint Ignatius coach Spence Montgomery was less than pleased with how those two goals transpired.

“We gave up odd-man rushes because our effort there was casual. That can’t happen,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got GBS on Sunday (in state tournament play) and if you play like that, you’ll be out of the state tournament. You just can’t do it. So we have to have a real short memory here, reset, and go to battle in state and hopefully continue that part of our season.”

The Wolfpack’s state tournament schedule could delay the deciding third game against Fenwick until next weekend.

Nobody inside the packed arena likely believed that Fenwick's 2-0 lead would hold up. Game One featured three Saint Ignatius comebacks from one-goal deficits, and a high-powered Wolfpack team didn’t disappoint its fans in Game Two.

Saint Ignatius’ Colum Chinlund was a persistent threat throughout, and less than two minutes into the second period he cut his side’s deficit in half. Chinlund scored his fifth goal against Fenwick in five games this year at the 15:28 mark, cleaning up an initial shot taken by Charlie Reif.

Chinlund also keyed his side’s second goal, which came with 4:54 left in the second period. He fired from the right side and Lisek made the initial stop, but Michael Hollub was there to punch home the rebound, tying the game 2-2.

Lisek was doing everything he could against a Wolfpack team that held a 28-12 edge in shots through two periods, but their ability to clean up rebounds had tied the game.

Fabbrini wanted his boys to do a better job covering those rebounds.

“(Saint Ignatius) doesn’t need second and third chances,” Fabbrini said. “They’ve got some great players who can make things happen on their own. Some teams need help to create offense and some have players who can do it on their own, and they don’t need any help.”

With time winding down in the second period, Fosco took his turn creating a scoring chance. He won a puck on Fenwick’s end and broke up the ice on the left side before crossing a sweet pass over to Verni, who buried it with just 51 seconds remaining before intermission.

The Wolfpack answered. Saint Ignatius struck twice in the third period less than two minutes apart to grab a 4-3 lead — its first lead in regulation play in the series.

It was Max Meyer who tied the game for Saint Ignatius, at the 12:43 mark. Jackson Bossert fired from the right side and the puck caromed out to Meyer, who spun on it and fired from the high slot near the right circle to make it 3-3.

Jackson Steinlauf - who forced overtime in Game One with a late goal - gave Saint Ignatius its 4-3 lead at 11:23. An Eghan Ryan shot from the point on the left side hit a stick in front before Lisek made the stop, but Steinlauf crashed net on the right side and buried the rebound.

The Saint Ignatius lead held up for less than a minute, and the culprit was Fosco yet again, on a fine setup from Verni and Curtin. From below the Saint Ignatius goal, Verni slid a pass across to Curtin, who found Fosco in front for a one-timer that tied the game.

“He’s got a great shot, an elite shot,” Fabbrini said of Fosco. “And he’s certainly not afraid to shoot the puck. He’s been our best offensive player all year and I think it’s been a growing and learning process for him and for us as a group.”

Fosco led Fenwick in points during the regular season with 18 goals and 10 assists.

The first overtime period belonged to Lisek. Just as they did in Game One, the Wolfpack found another gear in overtime, firing 17 shots in 17 minutes, but Lisek didn't budge.

It was ultimately a Fenwick power play that spelled doom for Saint Ignatius. Montgomery wasn’t thrilled with his boys being whistled for two penalties in overtime, and the Friars capitalized when Pabst stuffed home his power-play game-winner.

Pabst’s goal also marked the second time this postseason he netted a game-winner. He also scored Fenwick’s lone goal in a 1-0 win over Sandburg to open state tournament play on Feb. 16.

Lisek was asked afterwards if he was at all fatigued after making 94 saves in more than eight periods of hockey over a 48-hour span.

“A little bit. I’ll take a good sleep tonight,” Lisek said. “But my energy comes back every time one of our guys blocks a shot, puts a body on the line, takes a hit, makes a great pass — anything like that. Even just having all my friends behind the glass, it all helps.”

Lisek loved what he’s seen from his teammates in the first two games of the series.

“They were outstanding,” Lisek said. “Our first four goals tonight were beautiful — cross-ice, one-timers, and then for the last goal just to be a dirty, grimy goal, that’s what you need in overtime. That was great.

“We came hard both games so I’m expecting the same for the third.”

Fabbrini pointed out that Thursday’s win marked the first time many of his players had ever beaten Saint Ignatius, applauding players up and down his lineup.

And just as Saint Ignatius always aims to slow Fosco down, slowing down Ryan has to be a primary goal for Fenwick. Ryan scored twice in Game One but Fenwick held him in check on Thursday.

“Joe Krzak was a physical force tonight,” Fabbrini said of his senior defenseman. “It’s something we’ve been encouraging all year, to finish checks, and I think we did a great job on (Ryan) tonight. He’s a guy that doesn’t need a lot of time and space to make things happen and if you give him to much, you’re generally going to be sorry. He still got some good chances but I thought we did a great job of making things difficult for him.”

Montgomery credited Lisek for a fine performance but bemoaned that his side’s 30-plus edge in shots didn’t bear more fruit.

“But I’m proud of Nick (Fabbrini) and his group. They hung on, they fought hard, and they were resilient,” Montgomery said. “They had some urgency when we didn’t.

“It will definitely be an exciting Game Three.”