WOODRIDGE — The power dynamic atop the Chicago Catholic Hockey League has officially shifted. St. Ignatius now reigns supreme.
The Wolfpack stormed to a 4-0 victory over Benet on Saturday to sweep the series and claim the school’s first Kennedy Cup title. St. Ignatius rolled to the championship without losing a game (6-0) after finishing 18-2 in regular-season play to win the CCHL crown ahead of Benet, which had won the past two Kennedy Cups.
“We needed to get over that line,” Wolfpack coach Matt Smith said. “This was our fourth time in the finals in the past six years and it had to be done. And thankfully it was. We had the right group and enough scar tissue built up that there was just one outcome we were willing to accept. And that was winning this for the first time in school history.”
Sebastian Wigfield was awarded the Kennedy Cup MVP after earning the shutout. Corbin Klein scored twice and Bobby Eber and Charlie Reif each added a pair of assists for the Wolfpack, who lost 6-5 in overtime to Benet in the deciding game of last year’s Cup final.
“Everything was leading up to this point and I’m just glad we pulled through, honestly,” Wigfield said.
They did more than pull through — the Wolfpack took control of a game that had been evenly played through two periods. Each team had 19 shots and St. Ignatius clung to a 1-0 lead entering the final period.
The Wolfpack nabbed the lead early in the second period for the game’s first goal. Corbin Klein deflected a high shot from Raymond Owens to give Saint Ignatius a 1-0 lead just 11 seconds into the period.
Klein and Owens had two other good scoring chances later in the period but couldn’t add to the lead. A neutral zone steal by Owens resulted in a 2-on-0 break. Owens carried down the right side before slipping the puck to Klein, whose point-blank shot was turned aside by Benet goalie Will Janus midway through the period.
Then with less than 30 seconds on the clock, Owens shot wide on a 2-on-1 with Klein, who passed it to Owens between faceoff circles for a mini-breakaway.
A scoreless first period wasn’t without quality scoring chances, especially for the Redwings. In fact, Benet had four of them in the final 3:30 alone but couldn’t get one past Wigfield.
Christiano DiBenedetto provided two of them just a minute apart, only to be thwarted by Wigfield both times. The first came on a rebound when Wigfield stoned DiBenedetto to the right of the cage.
“I thought we outplayed them in the first period. We just didn’t get any rewards for it,” Benet coach Jon Grzbek said. “Good job by (Wigfield), good job by their ‘D’. And after their first goal I thought the rest of the (second) period was pretty even.”
Wigfield did himself one better on the next DiBenedetto opportunity, using his quick stick to poke check the puck away before DiBenedetto could make his move in front.
“They’ve had plays like that before where I’ve sat back and took it,” Wigfield said. “They’ve got skilled guys; they’re going to move the puck around on me so I figured I’d take the action before they even get the chance.”
The senior goaltender’s play through 17 minutes allowed Saint Ignatius to take Benet’s best punch and go unscathed into the second period.
“(Wigfield) was the difference in the first period and Benet could have easily been up 1-0 and changed the shape of the game,” Smith said. “So in a way, that first period was the game in terms of holding the line. Coming out of that first period was critical and then getting that first goal, we weren’t chasing the game.”
The Wolfpack added to their lead in the third, again scoring in the opening minutes. Connor Kennedy scored into an open net after Joey Velarde scooped up a rebound and backhanded a pass to Kennedy in front of the fallen Janus. Reif took the original shot as the Wolfpack took a 2-0 lead at 15:04.
“When they got that second goal, it kind of took the wind out of our sails a little bit,” Grzbek said.
Paul O’Grady made it 3-0 with a power-play goal at 8:23, getting assists from Reif and John Paul Koehl. O’Grady snapped the puck into goal, taking a Reif feed from the behind the net.
The Wolfpack added an empty-net goal from Klein with 1:55 to complete the scoring and from there, it was all about keeping the Redwings away from Wigfield.
“Once we got to that point in the third we were all just trying to get that shutout for Wiggy,” Eber said. “He deserves it. (Three) year varsity goalie — he deserves it.”
The Cup-clinching victory came just two days after the Wolfpack suffered a 3-2 overtime loss to Stevenson in the state quarterfinals. Having a day off between games allowed the players to put that defeat behind them and return their focus to Benet, which also suffered a quarterfinal loss in the state tournament, falling 6-0 to New Trier Green on Wednesday.
“The morning after that game was a little rough but today it was just about getting the job done,” Wigfield said. “We were just ready to go.”
Smith applauded his boys’ resilience and performance against Benet, which came only a few days after the Wolfpack lost a state quarterfinal game to Stevenson.
“That loss may have sharpened the knife going into Saturday’s game against Benet, knowing we had one more bite at this thing together,” Smith said. “We were on a bit of a mission.”
The Redwings bid farewell to a senior group that saw the program win two Kennedy Cups in their time with the program. Benet finished second in CCHL regular-season play with a 17-3-0 record and went 35-14-0 overall.
Players like Christiano DiBenedetto, captain Tommy Budreck, and Ryan Farago make up a senior core of seven forwards, one defenseman, and one goaltender that also includes Ryan Grzbek, Giovanni Maselli, Ben Alagna, Gabe Szopinski, Curtis Sperling, and Patrick Sullivan.
“When that group came in, we had three teams and some of them have been seen four years of varsity hockey. They took Benet hockey to a new level, they really did, and some of these kids I’ve had since they were squirts.
“I’ve watched them grow into young men and they have represented the program well.”
Grzbek also tipped his hat to the Wolfpack after their history-making win.
“I’m sorry we lost it but Saint Ignatius is a really good team,” he said. “They’re a good program, they were first in the league, it’s their first Cup — I remember what that was like and they’ll cherish it.”
A group of sixteen seniors keyed this year’s Kennedy Cup-winning team, which finished with a record of 39-11-2 and finished atop the regular-season CCHL standings at 18-2-0.
Those seniors are defensemen Joey Giunta, Bobby Eber, Myles Mobarek, John Paul Koehl, and Colin Mulcahy; forwards Raymond Owens, Tyler Pan, Paul O’Grady, Joey Velarde, Connor Kennedy, Will Karnick, Paddy McDonough, Alex Lezotte, and Aidan Dooley; and goaltenders Sebastian Wigfield and Cash Volpe.
Owens, Pan, and Lezotte played their first seasons for Saint Ignatius this year, while Kennedy and Mobarek returned to the varsity fold this year.
“Everybody kind of came in for a reason,” Smith said. “We had some new entrants so it took a little time to take shape, and we were really happy it took shape the way we envisioned and wanted. That’s not guaranteed so it was nice to see the way it played out .
“It’s a credit to the connection that this group had together. They were the tightest group that we’ve had here.”
St. Ignatius senior forward Paul O’Grady and his teammates aren’t looking too far ahead during the postseason.
The goal remains the same: the Kennedy Cup championship.
However, the Wolfpack athletes are enjoying the process of working to get there and winning.
Following up a huge road win at Benet Academy, St. Ignatius defeated host St. Rita 5-2 on Jan. 27 at Southwest Ice Arena to clinch the top seed in the upcoming Chicago Catholic Hockey League (CCHL) Kennedy Cup playoffs.
“We’re just keeping it going as a team, and there are no theatrics throughout the year,” O’Grady said. “We’re keeping the boys energized and want to keep it rolling. We have a lot of seniors and a good group. We want to make sure we bring the cup home and get it done.”
St. Ignatius defeated Notre Dame 7-2 on Jan. 30 at Fifth Third Arena to wrap up the league’s regular season, finishing 18-2 in CCHL games.
St. Ignatius Coach Matt Smith said his 16-strong senior class has shown leadership throughout the season.
“It makes a world of difference to have that depth and experience,” Smith said. “We’ve got balance and effectiveness across all our lines. We picked up a couple guys in the offseason [from club teams], and it really enhanced our competitive depth.”
In the St. Rita win, O’Grady (assist), Jack Rhyner (assist), Corbin Klein (assist), Joey Velarde and Joey Giunta scored a goal apiece for the Wolfpack.
Raymond Owens, Will Karnick, Paddy McDonough, Tyler Pan and Connor Kennedy had an assist each to contribute to the balanced attack.
Star senior goalkeeper Sebastian Wigfield finished with 28 saves.
He was quick to credit the defense for slowing St. Rita down.
“Our defensive corps is so strong with our seniors,” Wigfield said. “Jack Perreault is a junior, and he’s really stepped up and played a positive role. Next year, he’ll be one of the top defensemen in the league.”
Wigfield has allowed just 1.39 goals per game.
At the end of a fast-paced first period, O’Grady finally broke through with a goal. On the goal line, the senior raced to the net and fired a high wrister against St. Rita senior goalkeeper Mike Menard.
The puck snuck its way in with 58 seconds left in the period.
“I saw a lot of space and took it to the net,” O’Grady said. “I tried to roof it by the goalie’s head. He’s a really good goalie, so I was lucky enough it went in.”
Rhyner scored midway through the second on a heads-up play seconds after killing a St. Rita power play.
In the midst of a line change, Rhyner swooped in and intercepted a pass. Racing to the net, he fired a shot that got past Menard as he came out of the net.
Klein’s goal put the Wolfpack up 3-0 with 5:14 left in the second.
The balanced scoring attack coming from all lines has been a staple all season.
“We’ve got a lot of guys contributing and working hard,” O’Grady said. “Everyone wants to get into the lineup. We’ve got a lot of guys fighting for the lineup spots. We want to keep it going and stay positive.”
St. Ignatius lost in the Kennedy Cup championship series the last two years.
When St. Rita roared back with 2 goals, the Wolfpack closed strong in the third, shutting the door on a comeback with Velarde’s goal and an empty-net score from Giunta in the final minute.
Wigfield said the defense will clean things up going forward.
“That was on us as a team,” Wigfield said. “We tend to get to a point where we feel a little bit too comfortable. We make it harder on ourselves than it has to be. It’s on us how we control the game. Not great, but we’ll take the win.”
Menard (St. John Fisher) finished with 34 saves for St. Rita.
Nino Gentile and Nolan O’Malley tallied a goal each for the Mustangs with Joe Kostelc passing for 2 assists. Mark Hernandez added an assist.Click here for full article on the Beverly Review
As a Saint Ignatius freshman, Sebastian Wigfield turned in a 62-save performance against perennial power Stevenson in the JV state tournament and though the Wolfpack lost, 1-0, the game gave Wigfield the needed confidence and knowledge that he can control the pace of a game.
Now a senior, Wigfield is still stopping pucks for Ignatius – and one of the main reasons that the Wolfpack is poised for a run at the Kennedy Cup and the state tournament.
Wiggy, as he is known to his teammates, lives in Oak Park and is in his third season on the school’s varsity. He formerly played for the Chicago Jets and Chicago Blues – and he sports uniform No. 35.
He also sports the “C” on his jersey and brings a calm disposition, plus consistent work rate and effort to the ice.
“I don’t have much of an outspoken leadership role, but I can effectively communicate and connect with everyone on the team,” said Wigfield, who was born in the UK and was in kindergarten when his family moved to the Chicagoland area.
He followed his brother and learned to skate.
“(I) don’t remember my first game but can remember how thrilling it was strapping on the community goalie gear when I was trying out goalie for the first time. I felt really clumsy, but movements and reactions came more naturally than playing forward,” Wigfield said. “I’ve learned to play a simpler game, adapting to the higher speed and pace at the high school level. I use my size to fill space and make calm decisions.”
He brings a hybrid/positional-based style.
Wigfield said he’s been influenced by his brother’s hockey career and long supported by his parents on his hockey journey.
Wigfield is still undecided on his college plans, but certainly hopes to continue his hockey post-high school.
Wigfield also played two varsity golf seasons for Ignatius, and it certainly has helped his hockey. “Golf gives me full control over the outcome of the game. It also allows me to take a break from hectic times and just get outside,” he said.
Stopping Slapshots With … Sebastian Wigfield
Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Marian Hossa
Favorite Sports-themed Movie: Goal! The Dream Begins
Favorite Pre-game Meal: Pesto with Parmesan Chicken
Celebrity You’d Like To Meet: 14th Dalai Lama
Best Hockey Tip: “Everybody wants to be a beast until it’s time to be a beast.” – Saint Ignatius assistant coach Spencer Montgomery
Off-Ice: “I golf, listen to records, and grow bonsai trees.”
Calming: “Working out and taking walks with my dogs let me get some peace of mind. I play best when I have no anxiety or wasted headspace on irrelevant details of the game. These activities let me enjoy the moment and give me a break from the rink, which subsequently helps my performances on the ice.”
Little-Known Fact: “I’m a dual citizen, lived in Wisconsin, and have two giant bonsais in my room.”
Teammate Who You Could See As A Hockey Coach: Will Karnick
Hardest Slapshot On Your Team: Bobby Eber
Most Accurate Shot: Tyler Pan
Fastest Skater: Joey Velarde
Best High School Uniform (other than Ignatius): New TrierClick Here to View Article on Amateur Hockey Association Illinois