Of all the teams in the CHSHL Class A, St. Joseph by the Sea was the last one St. Anthony’s coach Jeff Stelmok was hoping to see in the best-of-three championship series.
“They have a tremendous amount of heart, they’ve got guts and they don’t slow down,” Stelmok said.
The Vikings also have a special talent in Michael Bronzo and a solid goaltender in Rob Palumbo.
But the Friars held Bronzo scoreless and peppered Palumbo en route to a 6-1 win in Game 1 of the best-of-three series at World Ice Arena in Flushing Monday night.
St. Anthony’s can wrap up a third straight CHSHL Class A title with a win in Game 2 Sunday at Abe Stark Rink. A St. Joseph by the Sea victory would set up a decisive Game 3 back in Flushing next Monday.
St. Joseph by the Sea, which knocked off Chaminade with an overtime goal in Game 3 of its semifinal series, actually took the game to the heavily favored Friars in the first period.
However, the Vikings had nothing to show for it and any momentum they would have had going into the second was gone when St. Anthony’s (19-0-0 CHSHL A) scored three goals in the final 3:30 of the period.
It started with a Chris Wallace wrist shot between the circles, followed by tap-ins by Ryan Calandra and Joe Loiacono.
“I think the guys were a little excited to be in the finals, gripping the sticks a little tight and getting the butterflies out,” Stelmok said. “But once we settled in our game kind of came around.”
Wallace scored his second on a breakaway with 3:50 left in the second to give the Friars a commanding 4-0 lead, but Matt Manfredi breathed some life into Sea (9-9-2) with a power play goal with 1:09 left.
The Vikings took a 51-second power play into the third period, but St. Anthony’s not only killed the penalty, but immediately made it 5-1 when Wallace added his third in front of the net.
Mike Martino netted the Friars sixth goal 1:33 later for the Friars final goal.
“I think that was the killer,” St. Joseph by the Sea coach Anthony Larca said of Wallace’s third goal. “We just came out, we had a power play and then right after the power play they scored a goal.”
Wallace, who also had an assist, once again showcased the type of player he is.
“He’s been one of the best players on this team for three years and it just manifests itself game after game after game,” Stelmok said. “For him, it’s just another hockey game and he goes out there and does his thing. It’s obvious he’s a superior talent, head and shoulders above most of the players in this league and it’s a very good league.”
It was in stark contrast to Bronzo’s quiet and frustrating night.
“We know Bronzo is their top gun and we’re aware of him when he’s on the ice,” Wallace said. “Defensively we know if he gets the puck we have to be in our position. That way we keep him quiet. That’s what we did today. We shut him down and he couldn’t really build momentum.”
Wallace also doesn’t want to give Sea any momentum in Game 2 Sunday. He wants nothing more than to end the series and look forward to the New York State CHSAA title game at Nassau Coliseum on March 4.
“I would love it,” Wallace said of playing at the Coliseum again. “To get to the state final and play at the Coliseum would be something.”
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