Fenwick coach Nick Fabbrini played on two Kennedy Cup-winning teams at Fenwick in the early 2000s. So as well as anyone, during the 60th anniversary season of the formation of the Chicago Catholic Hockey League, Fabbrini understands the legacy and impact of the CCHL.
“One of the really special things about not just playing for Fenwick, but playing for the Catholic League,” Fabbrini said, “is that there are a whole lot of people outside of parents and players that that care about their programs and the outcomes. Even if you don't see (those alumni), they're following from all over the country.”
St. Rita coach Brian Coleman is another CCHL veteran.
"I played for four years at St. Rita but even prior to that, I remember always going to games with teammates from youth hockey to watch their older brothers play," Coleman said. "It's just a special league with an ingrained competitive rivalry."
Decades’ worth of hockey alumni from Fenwick, St. Rita, Brother Rice, and Mount Carmel — the only remaining original members of the CCHL — were all there in spirit Sunday night in Crestwood, to officially kick off the 60th anniversary of the CCHL.
Fenwick took on St. Rita while Brother Rice played Mount Carmel at the Southwest Ice Arena, with Fenwick and Brother Rice coming away with victories.
Fenwick won 5-2 over St. Rita in Game One, and Brother Rice shut out Mount Carmel 4-0 in the night’s second game.
Fenwick took on a short-benched St. Rita team and through 17 minutes, both sides found scoring chances in a back-and-forth first period.
Fenwick (2-1-0 in CCHL play) struck first on an Alex Matysiak goal in the game’s 9th minute, off a feed from Charlie Bastedo. St. Rita’s Travis Gutkowski fired from the high slot to tie the game with 5:36 left in the first period, with Gavin Jedlicka on the assist.
The tie lasted all of 46 seconds. Fenwick took a lead it would not relinquish at the 4:50 mark when Christopher Godellas fired from the point on the right side, hammering his shot off the post and into net. Matysiak and Harry Sramek assisted on the goal that gave Fenwick its 2-1 lead.
But through 17 minutes, St. Rita (0-1-0) earned a 14-10 edge in shots over Fenwick. The Mustangs’ Josh Chinas, Aidan O’Brien, Jack Willette, Nolan O’Malley, and Jedlicka all had good looks on net in the first period.
“I like a lot of our game and I have all year,” Coleman said. “We’re making a lot of high-end plays, we move the puck well, and move to open space well. We haven’t buried yet but sometimes that takes time. But it’s a good group of kids with a high ceiling.”
Fenwick goalie Cole Alessi stood tall throughout St. Rita’s best attacking period of the game. Alessi stoned Chinas at the post, turned away a shot taken on a 2-on-1 rush, and held up during 5-on-4 and 5-on-3 Mustangs power plays.
“We were fishing for pucks too much in the first period and we were getting danced around,” Fabbrini said. “(St. Rita) has some good players and if you give them some time and space they’ll make things happen. And we were taking a few too many chances in the first period to create offense. Then we started to pick up the physicality and that sort of changed the tide.”
Fenwick outscored St. Rita 3-1 in the second period and never looked back. Bastedo, who scored twice in the game, saw conditioning and bench numbers also help turn the tide for Fenwick, which finished with a 38-26 edge in shots on net.
“Obviously, they had a short bench,” Bastedo said. “And you know, we've been working hard and we just kind of had more endurance. We had that next shift mentality the whole time — even if you had a bad shift go out there next shift and do something good.”
Matysiak centered a pass from the left side to Bastedo but Adduci turned him away from point-blank range to start the second period. The Friars went up 3-1 on a Will Pabst goal, on assists from Jake Alessi and Giovanni Sena, and took a 4-1 lead on a sweet move on the right side to deke a defenseman by Mike Curtin.
Curtin’s rip went bar-down with roughly 11 minutes remaining in the period.
Fenwick’s scoring binge ended when Bastedo scored from the slot mid-way through the period, on assists from Sramek and Jonathan Svete.
St. Rita cut Fenwick’s lead to 5-2 on a Jedlicka power-play goal with roughly five minutes remaining in the second period. It would be the final goal scored in the game, with Fenwick playing well to protect its lead the rest of the way.
“We came out in the third period knowing we didn't have to score, we just couldn’t get scored on,” Bastedo said. “We knew our job and we worked hard. I thought we played hard all the way through and really never let up.”
An under-manned St. Rita team fought the good fight throughout the third period but couldn’t muster the comeback.
“We had two players out who are on the golf team and another two out with injuries,” Coleman said. “They’re playing four lines and we weren’t, and they were able to take advantage. Hopefully we get some bodies back, our endurance goes up, and we can make it a tighter game next time.”
Still, a team heavy with freshmen and sophomores is finding its way for Coleman, who likes the level of hockey he’s glimpsing so far.
Gutkowski scored the Mustangs’ first goal and his career is just beginning. “He’s a freshman, a smart player, and has a lot of creativity and vision,” Coleman said. “And some of our other freshmen were able to drive plays in our offensive zone.
“Our seniors have been good, too. Brendan Harkins is always a strong two-way player, Nolan O’Malley is a strong defensive player along with TJ Swan, and I thought (junior defenseman) Jack Willette moved his feet well with the puck and helped us exit our zone using his skating ability. There was a lot to like tonight. And even though we gave up five goals, there were a lot of high-quality chances that (goalie) Dom Adduci shut down.”
Fabbrini sees a different game playing out when the teams square off again in CCHL play on Nov. 17.
“They were short-handed today so I expect them to be better next time,” Fabbrini said. “Brian's a good friend of mine and I know he's gonna get them going. They've got some really good players.”
Playing in its third game in three days, Fenwick showed that playing in both the CCHL and the Scholastic Hockey League this year is paying early dividends where conditioning is concerned.
“For the third game of the weekend, I thought we kept pushing and I think that was our hardest-working game of the weekend,” Fenwick captain Mike Verni said. “And I think our power play started to click today.
“Playing more games and being in two leagues, I think our conditioning is just getting better and better. I think at the start of the season it was rough, we were really only useful for about a period or two. But I think we're finding our legs and now I think we can actually play for 51 minutes.”
Fenwick won 6-0 over Mount Carmel Friday and lost 3-1 to Benet Saturday before notching Sunday’s win.
“I think we're pretty happy with how we played this weekend even though we didn't quite get the result yesterday we wanted to against Benet,” Fabbrini said. “I thought that we carried most of the play (vs. Benet) but obviously you’ve got to tip your hat to them for making the most of their opportunities. But we're pretty happy with how we're playing and today it was nice to get rewarded.”
Fenwick posted a 32-17 edge in shots in its loss Saturday to league-leader Benet.
Fabbrini applauded the line of Bastedo, Matysiak, and Sramek for its prominent play throughout the weekend’s three games, and likes the way his squad’s defensive play is taking shape.
“Jonathan Svete and Luke LaChance have both been really good, really solid defensively,” Fabbrini said. “We have four senior D - LaChance, (Joe) Krzak, Johnny Moore, and Chris Godellas - and those guys are really bought in, they block a ton of shots. Our two juniors are Jake Alessi and Jonathan Svete and they’re both playing better and better each game.”