MELVILLE, New York, March 13
BY: Andrew Wroblewski
At St. Anthony’s High School, a hockey player is more than just a hockey player; he’s a family member.
“One of the first things we tell the kids after tryouts is that this is going to be more than just a team; it’s going to be more than just hockey,” said Anthony Auciello, head coach of the St. Anthony’s varsity hockey team. “You’re going to become brothers.”
In Feburary, St. Anthony’s (11-8-4) claimed its fifth-straight Catholic High School Athletics Association (CHSAA) title by defeating Monsignor Farrell (14-6-0) in a best-of-three series.
“We had high expectations coming off of last year where we had also won a championship,” Auciello said. “We expected another one.”
With only a few games left to play in the regular season, Auciello’s ambitions appeared to be in jeopardy when the Friars found themselves in a battle with Fordham Preparatory School (8-8-0) for the final playoff spot in the CHSAA ‘A’ Division. With its back against the wall, St. Anthony’s capped divisional play off by earning two key points to vault itself into the post-season as the No. 4 seed.
The Friars were tasked with a first-round series against top-seeded Chaminade High School (14-2-2). Chaminade — coming off an undefeated regular season — intimidated the Friars, but Auciello urged his team to “skate as hard as [they] could.”
St. Anthony’s, however, dropped the first game in the series 4-2.
“Losing that first game kind of served as a model of the entire season, where we constantly had to play with our backs against the wall,” Auciello said. “We told them they had no choice but to win.”
Facing elimination, Auciello said St. Anthony’s “came out flying.”
The Friars banded together through the leadership of captains Matthew Martino and Alec Manfre, the instincts of Joey Slevin — who led the Friars with 17 goals and 10 assists — and the stopping-power of goaltender Mike Mullins, who periodically “stood on his head” for the Friars according to Auciello.
With this, the Friars handed Chaminade its first loss of the season in a decisive 6-3 victory. The next day, St. Anthony’s completed the upset by taking the final game 4-3 in overtime.
Now only Farrell — which defeated Holy Cross (10-6-2) in the other first-round series — stood between St. Anthony’s and the CHSAA title.
After a week’s rest, the Friars took to the ice yet again, but dropped the first game 2-1 in overtime.
Once again facing elimination, the Friars responded with two 4-1 victories, “blowing away” the Lions, according to Auciello, to claim the championship.
Next up for St. Anthony’s was a state title game against St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute (Buffalo) at Nassau Coliseum on March 1. Auciello believed in his team, but knew the game would be hard-fought.
“It’s tough playing against these teams from upstate because, unlike here, those kids are either dedicated to their club team or their high school team,” Auciello said. “Because of that, they’re usually pretty strong and know how to play well with each other.”
The Friars fell behind 2-0 in the first period, which Auciello chalked up to his team’s nervousness from playing on such a large stage. In the second period, forward Bryan Whelan gave the Friars life with a goal, assisted by Slevin, to bring the deficit down to one.
St. Anthony’s would ultimately fall short, losing the game 2-1. The result stung, but Auciello encouraged his team to stay positive.
“I told them that the most important thing for us this year was that we came together as a family through the season, playoffs and championship game,” Auciello said. “I think that’ll serve as a pretty big message to them for the rest of their lives.”
Originally published: The Long Islander (Thursday, March 13, 2014; pg. A30)