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Stepinac gains edge in CHSHL semifinals

Posted Monday, February 16, 2009 by Harold Gutmann

MOUNT VERNON - Just hours after Stepinac took the first step toward its first Catholic High School Hockey League title, defending champion Iona Prep was eliminated from contention.

Stepinac defeated Chaminade 5-3 in Game 1 of its best-of-three semifinal series, and Farrell finished off Iona Prep 5-1 in Game 2 of its series in a CHSHL playoff doubleheader at the Ice Hutch.

The Gaels beat the Crusaders in overtime to win the championship series last year, but the teams have gone in opposite directions since then.

Despite a 12-man roster and low expectations, second-seeded Stepinac tied for the regular-season title and has played controlled, inspired hockey. Iona Prep, which came in with a deep, talented roster, has struggled with inconsistency and discipline on the ice and entered the playoffs as the No. 4 seed.

Those traits were evident last night. Stepinac jumped out to an early lead, stayed focused and received contributions from the entire roster.

"Just because we have what people consider half a team, that just means we play twice as hard, and it shows," senior defenseman Ken Kauffman said.

Directly afterward at the Ice Hutch, Iona Prep gave up two early goals and wound up taking 17 penalties, totaling 42 minutes.

"We couldn't get out of our own way," Gaels coach Tim Turnbull said. "It was the biggest game of the year, and we talked about coming out quick. We took a penalty, and they scored on it right away, and that really took a lot of air out of the kids."

Farrell, which last appeared in the finals when it won the league in 2002, defeated Iona Prep 4-3 in overtime in the first game Friday night.

After falling behind 3-0 yesterday, the Gaels scored on the power play when Mike Cambria found Rob Molinaro back door with 4:01 left in the second period. But Farrell's Richard Flood scored with one second left before intermission to squash any momentum.

Three of Iona Prep's four captains were penalized on a skirmish in front of the Farrell net, and the Lions scored a third power-play goal (on 10 chances) to make it 5-1 with 8:55 left.

"We're a hard-working team out there. We have lot of kids who play physical," Molinaro said. "It's rough with the league and the refs, but you can't blame it on that. If they start calling everything, you can't really help the way you play."

Stepinac, still motivated from its loss to Iona Prep last year, fared much better.

"Last year we came so close," defenseman Anthony Reagan said. "We want to make sure that doesn't happen again."

The Crusaders scored two nice goals in the first six minutes. Frank Kopicki found Ryan Rueda in front for a one-timer, and then Rocco Miano skated past two defenders and centered to Steven Yankowski, who redirected the puck past goalie Joe Hutter.

Chaminade came back to tie the score at 2-2, but Stepinac retook the lead on Rueda's second goal with 2:08 left in the first period, and stayed in front the rest of the game. Miano finished with two goals and two assists.

"Our offense came through, they played hard, they backchecked. Our goalie (Michael Lanaro) made a lot of important saves, and our defense stopped a lot of odd-man rushes, and overall that's what leads to success," Kauffman said.

The Crusaders are back tonight at 8:35 for Game 2, and Game 3 (if necessary) is here Wednesday at 3. The finals schedule has yet to be determined.

Reach Harold Gutmann at hgutmann@lohud.com. Read the hockey blog at highschoolsticking.lohudblogs.com.

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