ORLAND PARK - For a lot of teams that lose the first game of a playoff — when the other squad scores twice in the final five minutes and then they fall behind by two goals just over five minutes into their next game — there’s a real good possibility that their season might be coming to an end
That's just the scenario that Providence Catholic faced in the second game of the Chicago Catholic Hockey League's DiCristina Cup, the best-of-three championship series for junior-varsity teams, when it met top-seeded Saint Ignatius College Prep on Friday at the Arctic Ice Arena in Orland Park.
The Wolfpack obviously had intentions to end the series in two games over the second-seeded Celtics so that they could cheer on the varsity squad in their game the next day; the Wolfpack’s varsity squad won the program’s first Kennedy Cup Saturday, in in a 4-0 series-clinching victory over Benet Academy.
Although down, Providence certainly wasn't out. Even though they were still down 3-1 late in the second period, the Celtics scored goals in both the second and third periods to force overtime. After two overtime periods, Providence finally got the better of the Wolfpack to capture a 4-3 win in triple overtime that advanced the series to Saturday's third and final game at Fifth Third Arena in Chicago, which is set for a 7:40 p.m. start.
Wolfpack goalie Ethan Laughlin played commendably in denying the Celtics on their onslaught of good scoring attempts, particularly in the third period and the initial overtime. But he was unable to prevent a nice combination in which Ethan Ganz sent a pass to Fin Harris, who fired in the winner with 12:02 remaining in the third overtime, which snapped a stretch of nearly 40 minutes where neither side was able to connect.
"It was a close game and both teams played hard but we just finished on top because we played harder, that's pretty much it," Harris said. "They have a good goalie but we were just consistent and kept putting on shots until we scored. It's always close against them since they're a good team but we just came out on top tonight. We played with our hearts, that's what happened. We just kept on going and we didn't stop and that's how we scored."
Considering how the teams' three previous games had gone, it wasn't all that surprising that their fourth meeting would be another nail-biter. The Wolfpack's Tiernan Ryan scored with 5:05 left to break a 2-2 tie in their first game on October 30 in Chicago and his squad did the same thing in the rematch on January 21 when Andrew Lannon got the eventual game-winner with 7:22 remaining in Orland Park.
In the DiCristina Cup opener six days earlier, the Celtics moved ahead at 3-2 with 8:23 left following goals from Aidan Kilcoyne and Joey Ramos during a 2:16-span but Lannon tied it up with 4:33 left and Ryan got the game-winner with just 17 seconds to go.
Several of those same players accounted for the scoring during Friday's lengthy struggle.
The first goal in Friday's game came while the Wolfpack were down a man. With 7:57 left in the opening period, Kristiano D'Cunha sent a long pass to Ari Ram, who along with Ryan got past defenders. As they approached the net, Ram handed out his eighth assist to Ryan, who collected his 23rd goal. It was D’Cunha’s fourth assist.
Just 1:26 later, in a combination that featured a fourth assist contributing to a fourth goal, Emmett Murphy found Lucas Joa, who connected to give the visitors the early 2-0 advantage.
The Celtics finally cut into the deficit with 1:31 left in the first period when Ramos got free and put in a short attempt and that's how it remained at the initial break in the action.
Saint Ignatius capitalized on a power play early in the second period to reclaim a two-goal lead when Eghan Ryan scored his fifth goal unassisted, 32 seconds after a roughing penalty was called.
But with 5:02 left in the middle period, Kilcoyne fired a liner over Laughlin's glove for his 16th goal while Nick Pavlis collected his ninth assist to close the gap to 3-2, which is how it remained going into the final 17 minutes of regulation play.
The Wolfpack got caught with having one too many men on the ice and Providence capitalized on the advantage just over a minute later when Pavlis (10th assist) and Kilcoyne (11 assists) set up Ramos to score his second goal of the night and 11th overall, to even things at 3-3.
The opening overtime was far more frenzied than the more subdued second overtime, and that was due in part to five penalties that were called.
Even though Tiernan Ryan left the ice for a stretch due to an injury as a result of a roughing penalty, both sides were credited for double-digit shots during the first OT. Providence posted a 26-16 edge in shots in the overtime but both Laughlin and Celtics goalie Justin Laakson were up to the challenges and the 3-3 tie held to set up another 15 minute overtime.
"It was great for sure, there were a lot of fans here and a lot of history between these two teams, it's a big rivalry," Laughlin said. "I still think that our team wanted it more than them but sometimes it doesn't go your way, and a couple of breakdowns led to opportunities for them.
"We have to make sure that we bring it for the next game. I think it speaks to the work that we all put in practice. And the effort that they've put throughout this whole year, it's the longest season in high school sports. It shows the care that they bring and the want they have to win this trophy. It's something special and I think we can still get it done."
After the Celtics dodged trouble following an early penalty for having too many men on the ice, there were a few oohs and aahs during the second overtime but it was also clear that both sides were struggling to keep up the high level of intensity seen earlier as fatigue began to set in due to the the lengthy time on the ice.
Shortly after the teams had gone 40 minutes without a goal, the Celtics got their big chance to end the drama just 2:58 into the final overtime when Ganz sent a pass from the side to Harris, who fired in the winner for his seventh goal and Ganz' 16th assist.
Most importantly, Harris’ goal kept Providence’s title hopes alive for one more playoff game.
"We were tired and they were tired, but you just had to work harder," Ganz said. "That was the longest that I've played. It's always a good game against them. It's awesome since we've been working for this for a while. We lost last year in overtime against these guys. So it feels great to get back at them."
Despite being unable to wrap up their series in two games and not being able to celebrate a title on the same weekend as the Kennedy Cup champions, the Wolfpack can claim the DiCristina Cup with a victory on their home ice.
They have plenty of motivation to cap their season on a high note.
"It was tough, but you just have to keep grinding," Saint Ignatius' Owen Ray said. "We didn't get the bounces and in that third period they came back. But we just kept putting our foot on the gas and kept working and grinding and unfortunately, the third OT rolled around and we didn't get the bounce.
“So we just have to come back in game three and hit them hard. It's always a battle every time that we play them. That's the fourth time we've played them so far and it's been a one-goal game every time. So it's always a battle."