CRESTWOOD – When Providence Catholic Coach Nick Iaciancio looks for a prep hockey measuring stick, he need not look much further than Thursday’s Catholic League opponent – St. Rita.
“They’re the defending champs. We’re still a young team,” Iaciancio said.
The Mustangs scored a 5-4 win over Providence on Nov. 4. Among other things, Iaciancio thinks his squad was a bit “psyched out” playing against St. Rita and got pushed around as a result.
“We couldn’t get a jump. They really took the game to us. They were the more physical team,” Iaciancio said.
The Celtics have a second shot at the champs on Thursday, a game that will be shown on CN100, The Comcast Network, at Noon and 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8, and 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 10. Go to cn100.tv for additional airtimes. You can also find the game throughout Chicagoland with Xfinity On Demand.
Both coaches expect a playoff atmosphere at the Southwest Ice Arena for the second of three regular season meetings. St. Rita Coach Craig Ferguson, who recently notched his 500th win behind the bench, reinforced the game’s importance for the postseason.
“You don’t want to give up too many points in the league,” Ferguson said, referring to the impact on postseason seeding.
Providence enters the game with a 7-2-1 record in the Chicago Catholic League, just five points behind the Mustangs at 10-3. Having played three fewer games than St. Rita and with two head-to-head matchups to left, Providence has time to close the gap.
“Things are starting to improve,” Iaciancio said of his team that features only three seniors. “Our ‘D’ is starting to play better.”
Senior defensemen Colin O’Connor and Pat McErlan are a big reason for the improving defense, while Iaciancio calls Tyler Andrews, his third senior on the blue line, an “unsung hero.” Nick Hahn (5-0) and Justin Salazar (2-2-1) have split time between the pipes.
Leading the way on offense is junior Ben Brandau with 27 goals (including six game winners) and 21 assists. Brandau, a varsity skater since the middle of his freshman season, has kept the offense moving while junior forward and key power play member Rich Yusa recovers from an injured shoulder.
“(Brandau’s) biggest contribution is he’s been able to finish plays,” Iaciancio explained.
Finishing opportunities was a problem the first time against St. Rita for Providence. Getting the scoring chances can be tough against the Mustangs who have one of the state’s top goalies in Marty Napleton.
Napleton, who has six wins in nine league starts, is one of St. Rita’s few returning seniors from last year’s championship team. Ferguson acknowledges his team is still searching a bit for an identity, especially with several new faces on special teams.
“It’s a bit of a feeling out period for our guys,” Ferguson said. “We need to figure out who we are by Feb. 1.”
Helping in that process are top blue-liner Ryan McGrath and senior forward Christopher Foley, the Mustangs’ top scoring threat and most experienced member of the power play and penalty killing units. Junior Dylan Kay, another offensive threat, and sophomore Steven Meister, are also making strong contributions, Ferguson said.
As for Thursday’s contest, Ferguson says his team will continue to be physical and play smart, while focusing on taking care of the simple things on both ends of the ice. He also wants to see a more patient pace compared to the uncharacteristic “wide open” style of the first meeting. Iaciancio wants to see the Celtics get out of their own zone quicker and to control the offensive tempo.
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