BENSENVILLE -- He scored once in Game 3 of last year’s Kennedy Cup final series, but Tommy Budreck may have never scored a more timely goal than his game winner on Tuesday night.
Budreck’s goal proved to be the difference for Benet in a 3-2 victory and a series sweep against Fenwick in a Kennedy Cup semifinal series at The Edge Ice Arena. The two-time defending Kennedy Cup champion Redwings will face the winner of the St. Ignatius-Carmel series, which begins Thursday night at Fifth Third Arena in Chicago.
Budreck scored only 71 seconds after William Steadman tied it for the sixth-seeded Friars.
Gabriel Szopinski fed Budreck at the right of the net for the goal, his 19th in Chicago Catholic Hockey League play this season, sending a jolt of energy through the Redwings that carried until the final horn.
“Getting a pass from my teammate Gabe and putting it in the back of the net about a minute after (Fenwick tied it) -- it doesn’t get any better than that,” Budreck said.
After scoring, Budreck raced to the neutral zone and launched himself into the boards in front of a group of Benet fans as the rest of the on-ice Redwings followed suit in an exuberant celebration.
“I had a bunch of my friends come out, so just seeing them cheering right after I scored, I got super excited,” he said. “I was probably more excited for the celly than the actual goal. I got back to the bench and was out of breath.”
Benet dominated the play in the first period, grabbing a 1-0 lead on a goal by Brendon O’Neill. Budreck started the play with a steal just inside the Fenwick blue line before chipping the puck to the slot for Giovanni Masselli.
Masselli quickly moved the puck to his right where O’Neill was able to beat Fenwick goalie Santino Ori (31 saves) on the blocker side. Although the Redwings didn’t score again the period, they held a 14-3 advantage in shots at the intermission.
It was similar to how Benet played in Game 1 when the Redwings led 2-1 after the first period and finished with a commanding edge in shots. While it appeared Game 2 was headed in the same direction, especially after Christiano DiBenedetto made it 2-0 only 90 seconds into the second period, the Friars had other ideas.
DiBenedetto scored his 17th goal of the CCHL season with a nifty move in the slot, fooling a defender and Ori to the right, while breaking left and firing a shot to Ori’s blocker side. Szopinski and Hudson Schlie earned assists.
Fenwick turned the momentum during their third power play of the game, firing four shots on goal and another just as the penalty expired. The Friars had had only six shots all game prior to that outburst.
Despite not scoring with the man advantage, the Friars kept the pressure going and eventually got a tap-in goal from Johnny Sena to cut Benet’s lead in half at the 6:19 mark. Steadman set up the goal with an end-to-end rush that was thwarted by goalie William Janus (20 saves). But the puck stayed just outside the crease for Sena to hammer home.
Steadman was not denied in the third as the Friars fought back to tie it 2-2 with 10:19 left. Eddie McFadden won a battle behind the Redwings net and got the puck into an open area in front. Steadman retrieved it in the high slot with his back to the net, spun to his forehand and ripped a wrist shot over Janus’ shoulder for his 17th goal.
“He’s been a rock all of our guys can rely on all season long,” Fenwick coach Nick Chiappetta said of Steadman, the Friars’ leading scorer. “He generates the most offense that we see game in, game out. So I’m just proud of the way he played (tonight) and has played all season.”
The Friars’ elation turned to disappointment a short time later when Budreck scored the game winner at 9:08.
Still, Fenwick can take a lot of positives from the loss, most notably the way the defense performed. After allowing 50 shots on goal in Game 1, the Friars held Benet to 34 in the finale. Only 20 came after the first period.
“It was just about minimizing turnovers,” said Fenwick defenseman Sam Chioda, a CCHL All-Star selection. “We got the puck out of our zone more this game than in Game 1.”
Benet can now turn its attention to the Kennedy Cup final and a possible rematch with top-seeded St. Ignatius. Reaching the final has almost become routine for the Redwings.
“That’s always a thought, like it’s been a goal all year,” said Ryan Farago, Benet’s second-leading scorer. “We knew we were capable of it. But we weren’t really looking just to get there--we are focused on winning it.”