This article will appear with additional exclusive photos in the January 15 print issue of the Severna Park Voice.
The January 6 matchup between the Archbishop Spalding and Mount Saint Joseph ice hockey teams made it clear that the battle for the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship will be as closely contested this year as it has been in recent seasons.
Having already tied 0-0 in one prior meeting this season, the Cavs and Gaels played to a 1-1 stalemate at The Gardens Ice House in Laurel. Ryan Trott’s first-period score gave Saint Joe a lead it protected for nearly the entire game before Archbishop Spalding rallied for a 1-1 tie on Riley Caldarella’s last-minute goal.
Spalding goalie Collin Berke and MSJ goalie Jake Williams dazzled in front of the net with 28 and 19 saves, respectively.
The programs have combined for the last three MIAA A Conference championships, with Spalding winning each of the last two over Mount Saint Joe and the Gaels winning in 2017 over Calvert Hall.
With two ties this season and rich championship traditions, both sides foresee a late-season battle for conference supremacy.
“This rivalry started a long time ago,” said Berke. “With each generation it heats up. The boys all know each other. Last year, we were the underdogs and we went all the way to the championship, so we know anything can happen. We’re working hard as a team, bonding, and our confidence will boost up with every win. We’ll be a good contender for it this year.”
On January 6, the Gaels put pressure on the Cavaliers and held the better of play throughout much of the game even in spite of earning a larger share of the game’s penalties.
Trott gave his side a 1-0 advantage late in the first period, sending a shot off Berke’s shoulder and into the goal from a nearly flat angle deep in the corner.
“I just got down to the goal line and didn’t really have any options, so I just threw it onto the net and it went in, squeaked through between him and the post,” said Trott.
The Gaels intensified pressure throughout the second period, backing the Cavs up and peppering Berke with shots, which was a welcome sight for MSJ coach Mike Marley.
“I thought we were able to forecheck really effectively and put pressure on them, especially on their defensemen down low in their zone, especially towards the end of the second period, that was kind of our best stretch when we had them pinned in deep a lot,” said Marley.
Berke came up with an array of saves, using his stick, glove, leg paddings and even taking one off the facemask. Caldarella later called Berke “the best goalie in the league,”, and Spalding’s coaching staff noted that Berke had a three-game stretch over the winter break in which he recorded an eye-popping 150 total saves.
Spalding was able build offensive pressure with better consistency in the third period, getting strong attacking play from leading scorer JB Vance as well as Dominic DeCesaris and Michael Urgo.
Like Berke, Williams shined in net for Saint Joe. He made a pair of point-blank saves on one possession and stopped play with a glove save. A penalty that gave Spalding a power play led to an intense stretch of Cavs pressure with under five minutes to play, but Williams continuing to deflect shot after shot, and the Gaels killed the penalty.
“Honestly, it’s the team,” said Williams. “Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do that. They help me and keep me in control whenever I get angry. Without them I would have let in more goals. They keep me calm inside.”
He added that the rivalry has grown in intensity, as demonstrated by the group of classmates from both schools who trekked down to Laurel to watch the game and support their teams.
“It’s everything,” said Williams. “Our school gets behind us. That helps us with our morale.”
The Gaels did almost everything they needed to put away a victory, but the Cavs pulled Berke to get another man on offense with 54 seconds left. Urgo made a sweeping move on the left side and dropped a nifty pass behind him to Vance, who sent a pass through traffic over to the right.
Fresh out of the penalty box, Caldarella was waiting, and he wristed a shot past Williams and into the top shelf to tie the game at 1-1 with 32 seconds left. He dropped down to one knee for a sliding fist-pump in celebration before getting embraced by teammates, and he was keen to fuel the rivalry’s fire after the game, saying he was doing a little chirping on the ice.
“I called it,” said Caldarella. “I was talking to the goalie before I got my stupid penalty, and I told him, I said, ‘I’m going to nip it above your glove.’ I just turned to their bench, give a nice little celly, go down on one knee. Bring it straight to the boys, ya know?”
Salvaging the tie was a decent result given the Cavs’ substandard play throughout much of the first and second periods, said head coach Rob Trantin.
“I think we just have to get better with poise of controlling the puck,” said Trantin, whose Cavs are 5-6-7 overall and still winless in MIAA play at 0-1-3. “Early on, the first part of the game, we did a very poor job of that. The second half, we did a much better job. [Mount Saint Joe] are fast, very aggressive, and they were on us early. We were just throwing pucks around with no poise. In the second half we did a much better job, poise and control, and they were chasing us.”
Both teams also compete in the Mid-Atlantic Prep Hockey League along with several of the DC-area prep schools. The Gaels are 6-4-3 overall and undefeated in the MIAA at 2-0-2, having received consistent scoring and playmaking from Nolan Westlake and Chris Robinson. Notable wins over DeMatha Catholic and Gonzaga give the Gaels confidence they can compete for both the MIAA and MAPHL crowns.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I think we’ve got a really good team. We’ve got a team that likes to work hard,” said Marley. “Any of the teams that are going to make the playoffs can make a legitimate run to winning the title. If we get in the playoffs and we get hot, get some goal scoring and some goal-tending, we’ll be alright.”
With Calvert Hall also contenders for the MIAA, a rematch between Spalding and Saint Joe is no certainty but could nonetheless come in the MIAA playoffs, with the potential for a finals trilogy if the programs meet for the title. The spirited rivalry and strength of both programs yields confidence on both sides, including for Trantin and the Cavaliers.
“They know that if they bring their best they can be on the ice and they can compete with anybody,” Trantin said. “At the end of the day, it’s up to them and how we play together as a team. If they play their best, they can beat anybody in the league.”