Disabato: St Rita shooting for fifth straight Kennedy Cup3/22/11 Bensenville,IL St. Rita's goalie Marty Napleton (32) celebrates after beating Fenwick 4-2 in the Kennedy Cup Championship game at the Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville on March 22, 2011. | Rob Hart~Sun Times Media
Updated: February 8, 2012 9:34PM
They are attempting to accomplish what only three other teams have in Catholic League hockey history: win five consecutive Kennedy Cup championships.
It’s a tremendous feat, one that requires great reserves of skill and discipline, and the occasional puck bouncing the right way.
For the St. Rita Mustangs, who finished the regular season 19-2-1 and in first place in the Catholic League, the drive for five begins Thursday night against Notre Dame at Southwest Ice Arena.
“We’re happy with the way we’ve been playing,” St. Rita coach Craig Ferguson said. “We know we’re going to get everybody’s best effort. A big key for us is knowing that we have to play hard against everybody at all times.”
In other words, the Mustangs frequently must put the pedal to the metal, but do so in an intelligent manner.
Translation: stay out of the penalty box.
“There have been times where we get lazy a couple of shifts in a row and we shoot ourselves in the foot with silly penalties,” Ferguson said. “But we haven’t had the penalty situation we had the past couple of years. These kids have been pretty disciplined. The playoffs are a different story. Emotions can get high.”
St. Rita’s abundance of skill in past years allowed it to overcome bad penalties. This year’s team doesn’t have the depth of recent squads.
Still, the Mustangs boast plenty of firepower. The top line of Keith Burchett, Rick Faron and Chris Foley is the best the Catholic League has to offer — the trio finished 2-3-4 in scoring. The No. 2 line of Stan Sojka, Jack Warren and Joey McDonald would be the top line on most teams.
“We can’t rely on Faron, Burchett and Foley to do all the scoring,” Ferguson said. “We need those other guys to be productive and to get results.”
The most important ingredient in playoff hockey is a hot goalie. St. Rita’s Marty Napleton, he of the 1.42 goals-against average and five shutouts, is capable of carrying the squad to the championship. Mike Krch (8-0, 1.32 GAA) is a more-than-capable backup.
“Our goaltending has been outstanding all year long,” Ferguson said. “Marty was hurt (knee) at the end of the year, but he’s fine now.”
With Luke Botica healthy, the defensive corps should be at full strength.
Once the Mustangs dispose of Notre Dame in their best-of-3 series, they’ll face the winner of Providence-Fenwick in the semifinals. St. Rita is 3-0 against a young Providence team and 2-0-1 against a physical Fenwick squad.
Both squads, however, have the ability to pull off the upset against St. Rita.
If the Mustangs get to the finals, they’ll likely see Benet or St. Viator. Each handed the Mustangs a loss during the regular season.
“In the playoffs, you just never know,” Ferguson said. “There’s a lot of good goaltending in the league.”
The ingredients should add up to a fifth straight Cup for St. Rita, something only Mount Carmel, which won six straight on two separate occasions (1977 to ’82; 1985 to ’90), and Fenwick, which won five straight from 2003 to ’07, have done.
Ferguson, who was a part of Mount Carmel’s first run as a player, has transformed an inconsistent St. Rita program into a perennial powerhouse.
Not only has St. Rita dominated the Catholic League, it has advanced to the final four of the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois state playoffs four straight seasons. Two years ago, St. Rita recorded the elusive daily double, winning the Cup and the state championship.
It’s possible such a scenario could play out this year.
“We haven’t talked about it at all,” Ferguson said of winning five straight Cups and a state title. “It’s a cliche, but we have to take them one game at a time. We’ll see what happens.”