CRESTWOOD -- The Original 4 of the Chicago Catholic Hockey League officially kicked off this year’s CCHL 60th anniversary celebration on Sunday, and Brother Rice and Fenwick got to celebrate it a tad more than St. Rita and Mount Carmel.
After Fenwick’s 5-2 win over St. Rita at the Southwest Ice Arena, Brother Rice posted a 43-16 edge in shots in downing Mount Carmel with a 4-0 shutout.
It was the first CCHL game of the season for Brother Rice, and captain Jack Keaty liked one particular aspect of his side’s play.
“Our passing,” Keaty said. “We were passing a lot more. And I like the heart so far — everybody seems to want to play. We want to go out there and not take a shift off.”
Brother Rice coach Paul Manning liked what his boys gave him.
“They moved the puck really well on the power play and made it look easy out there,” Manning said. “That’s something we really emphasize.”
Crusaders sophomore James Esposito had a hat-trick to lead the way, while brother Johnathan also netted a goal in the win. Brother Rice led 2-0 after a period and scored once in each the second and third.
A Keaty pass from the left side on the power play found James Esposito for his first goal of the night, in the game’s 7th minute. Johnathan Esposito also assisted on the play.
Keaty and Nathan Wilczak assisted on Johnathan Esposito’s goal with 2:33 remaining in the fist period, and the Crusaders were off and running.
“I definitely liked how hard we were working for sure,” James Esposito said. “I think we can talk a little bit more and have a little more puck movement but you know, I think we’ve got a good team this year.”
Not to be overlooked in the first period was the play of Brother Rice goalie Deven Stillo. With the Crusaders up 1-0, Stillo stoned a shot taken from point-blank range on a rush at the net by Mount Carmel’s Daniel O’Connor. Several of Mount Carmel’s 16 shots in the game were infinitely dangerous but Stillo answered the bell on every one.
“It was 1-0, we were on a power play, we give up a breakaway and he makes a key save,” Manning said of Stillo. “Then we were able to go down and score to make it 2-0. He definitely did his job.”
James Esposito scored his second goal with 4:13, burying a rebound shot at the net, again on a Brother Rice power play. Matthew McGuffage and Joseph Noonan assisted on the goal.
Expectations are in the eye of the beholder, and where Manning’s eye is concerned, the bar on a power play sits up high. The Crusaders had two power plays and scored twice, which is roughly what their coach wants to see.
“If you have two or three power plays, you should score two or three goals,” Manning said.
James Esposito completed his hat-trick early in the third period to finish the day’s scoring, on an assist from Jacob Surma. Mount Carmel's Ryan Jakob and Thomoas O'Connor tested Stillo from close range with two quality scoring chances in the third period, but Stillo wouldn't budge.
James Esposito played football last year but gave it up to focus on hockey as his full-time sport. He and brother Johnathan accounted for all four of Brother Rice’s goals Sunday.
“James is a sophomore, his twin brother Johnathan is a defenseman, and they’re just very good players,” Manning said. “James has kind of dedicated himself to hockey, and it's really apparent on his skill level and what he can do.”
Giving up football didn’t take too much thought on Esposito’s behalf.
“I love hockey more than anything,” Esposito said.
The leader of the pack at Brother Rice this year is Keaty, who assisted twice and was a prominent force on the ice throughout.
“Jack Keaty is our senior leader,” Manning said. “He was an all-star last year and he's he's a stud. He's our leader, he’s our captain, and he did a lot of good things out there tonight.
“He leads by example and that’s what we need him to do. He's out there working a hundred and ten percent. And James scored those goals but the movement on the power play starts on the back end with Keaty at the top.”
Keaty’s approach to leadership is a tried-and-true one.
“I like to get everybody on the same page and try to help us build relationships, because then we're all on the same page as a team,” he said. “Then we play more as a team on the ice and that can be the difference for us. It's really just about connections, then knowing where (teammates) are going to be on the ice, and we're just still trying to build those connections.”
With only four seniors on the team, the Crusaders have plenty to work on with a young roster. Chief among those tasks?
“I didn't hear a lot of talking today. You know, back and forth,” Manning said. “We need to communicate better. That will get better, believe me, and we emphasize it. But we're young.”