St. Anthony’s defeated Iona Prep, 4-0, to sweep the three-game CHSHL Class A semifinal series and book the Friars third consecutive trip to the finals.
But St. Anthony’s coach Jeff Stelmok was far from happy as he left World Ice Arena in Flushing Monday night.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” he said. “My guys know what they should or shouldn’t be doing out there. You get to this point of the season, the team is on autopilot and we’re just fine-tuning a few things. We made way too many mistakes tonight.”
The Friars beat Iona Prep, 7-1, at Nassau Coliseum on Feb. 4 and 9-1 in the opening game of the three-game semifinal series Saturday. And it looked like St. Anthony’s (18-0-0) would be on its way to another lopsided victory Monday when Chris Wallace scored on a wrist shot off a faceoff 38 seconds into the first period.
But Iona Prep (7-9-2) stayed in the game with a yeoman effort defensively led by Rob Dillon, Pete Lipsky and Shawn Benesh and especially goaltender Dave Commender, who made 31 saves.
“I thought he was outstanding,” Stelmok said of Commender. “I thought he was terrific, probably the best performance I’ve seen by a goalie all year in the league.”
The Gaels slowed down the high-flying Friars, who scored 112 goals in 16 regular-season games, by playing conservative defensively. Any possibility of danger in their defensive zone was iced, every potential rebound was covered by Commender.
It meant a bevy of defensive zone face-offs, but that was fine with Iona Prep coach Mike Bonelli, who believed his team could dominate in the circles.
“This had to be the longest game played this year because we just iced the puck and iced the puck and slowed the game,” Bonelli said. “I think we did a great job of really creating and controlling the tempo of the game…They outscored us, but I thought we controlled the game.”
Wallace added his second on a backhand 5:39 into the second period and then set up Mike Marnell on the power play with 2:49 left in the period.
“I was looking to shoot and then I kind of fumbled the puck,” Wallace said. “I saw him going to the net so I just slid it backdoor to him and he finished. It was a pretty nice goal.”
Iona Prep turned things up offensively in the third period with Kieran O’Meara and Phil Logerfo both getting open shots from the slot in the opening three minutes, but Ralph Dispigna made a pair of solid stops en route to a 25-save shutout.
“We came with a specific game plan to slow them down and our goal was to be within goal-scoring striking distance in the third period,” Bonelli said. “That’s where we were. We made two mistakes in our zone bringing the puck to the middle of the ice, which you cannot do against this team, and it cost us both times.”
Nick Nici sealed the Friars win with a tap in with 2:22 left in the third as St. Anthony’s advances to the Class A finals for a third straight year. The two-time defending champs will meet either St. Joseph by the Sea or Chaminade in the best-of-three series beginning next Monday at 5:30 p.m. back at World Ice Arena.
Sea and Chaminade split the opening two games of its semifinal series with a decisive Game 3 set for Friday night at the Ice Hutch. Both teams suffered lopsided losses during the regular season to St. Anthony’s, but Wallace expects much tougher games in the finals.
“We know whoever we face is going to come out hard,” Wallace said. “We’re going to be the team to beat and going into those games, they’re going to want to make a statement. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing. It’s been working.”
But can either team beat mighty St. Anthony’s?
“If you’re going to play an up-tempo, skate with that team, you won’t beat them,” Bonelli said. “You need to play a very boring game.”
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