Lightning struck twice, giving Santa Margarita Catholic High School its second USA Hockey national championship on March 26.
Joseph Felicicchia finished a frantic end-to-end play to tie the score with 2 seconds remaining in the third period, and Leevi Selanne one timed a touch pass 10:07 into overtime to lift the Eagles past Regis Jesuit (Colorado), 3-2, at Plymouth, Minn.
“It’s something that I still do not understand,” Santa Margarita captain Logan Orsini said days afterward. “The finish is unbelievable.”
The championship was the Eagles’ second. The other was 2013 also against Regis.
“This was a great win for us. We have a great group of kids,” Santa Margarita coach Craig Johnson said. “Every game against Regis has been a tight game. They’re a phenomenal program, one we have a lot of respect for. They’re incredibly talented, well coached, and they play the game the right way, just like our kids do.”
The national title capped quite a hat trick for Santa Margarita, which won the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League championship and the CAHA State championship as well.
“Our seniors got together after they lost in the championship last year and set goals of winning the ADHSHL, winning state and winning nationals,” Johnson said. “To achieve that was pretty remarkable.
“We always talk about never giving up and I would have to say the last 10 seconds proves that no matter the circumstance you should fight to the end. I hope that is a lesson they can take with them beyond high school.
“This is a really close group and everyone gets along. The players get together a lot outside of school. I can’t say enough about our seniors. They got the freshmen involved right away, got the sophomores involved. They did a great job keeping everyone close.”
And that paid the biggest dividends in the closest game and the biggest stage of the season – the Nationals championship game.
The Eagles took the first lead midway through the first period when John Mulvihill II scored an even-strength goal. Regis took the lead with two goals in a 4:02 span in the latter half of the second period and held it until the closing seconds.
“After their second goal people were nervous,” Orsini said. “Coach came in (between the second and third periods) and went over a few things with us. We made two errors and they capitalized on them.
“He told us we were in control of the game. We took that mindset into the third.”
Added assistant captain Jacob Makowecki, “We knew we were outplaying them. We knew it would take a lot of work to score a goal because their goalie and their defense were doing a great job. Coach Craig told us we’d come too far to lose this.”
That was manifest in the final minute.
In the closing seconds and with Santa Margarita’s net empty, Jerrett Overland gathered the puck and fired a stretch pass to Brendan Williams on the right wing near the red line. Williams skated from right to left into the Regis zone, drew two defenders and fired a backhand saucer pass onto Felicicchia’s tape as the latter steamed down the slot. Felicicchia wasted no time finding the twine and giving the Eagles new life.
“That was an unbelievable goal, really the entire play was unbelievable,” Johnson said.
Added Orsini, “We went from tears to joy in a matter of seconds. Before overtime we tried to calm everyone down.”
Santa Margarita kept the pressure on in overtime, and after Brian Armijo drew a holding penalty on Regis midway through overtime the Eagles went to work on the power play.
“The power play moved the puck around well and created chaos,” Johnson said.
At one point Ryan Johnson controlled the puck behind the Regis net and made a cutback move and got the puck to Williams, who made a catch-release pass to Selanne on the backdoor, and Selanne buried the banner-winner.
The Eagles swept through pool play by a combined margin of 18-6. They defeated Southlake Carroll (Texas), 4-1, in the quarterfinals on March 25, then knocked off Rushmore Thunder (South Dakota), 7-0, in the semifinals later that day to set up the matchup with Regis. Mulvihill had two goals and an assist and Williams had three assists in the semi.
Williams’ 10 assists were tied for the tournament lead and his 13 points were tied for third most. Ryan Johnson’s 11 points were tied for seventh most.
The national title was the Eagles’ second in five years. In addition to the 2013 championship, they have been national runner-up twice (2015, 2017) and finished third in 2011.
The loss in the 2017 national championship game to Bayard Rustin stuck with the seniors, Makowecki said.
“Knowing how bad last year felt, none of us wanted that feeling again,” he said. “That loss stuck with us until we ended up winning this year.”
The CAHA title was the program’s fourth (2012, ’13, ’17, ’18), and the ADHSHL playoff championship was its third (2013, ’14, ’18).
“Our seniors all stuck together and built a locker room that is inclusive,” Orsini said. “Every single one of these guys is my brother.”
Team members included skaters Brian Armijo, Tyler Badame, Aidan Casey, Daniel Doss, Joseph Felicicchia, Nicholas Gluck, Dylan Hernandez-Ramirez, Will Howhannesian, Ryan Johnson, Logan Orsini, Taylor Loh, Jacob Makowecki, Brian Mathis, Nicholas Mauthe, John Mulvihill II, Jerrett Overland, Ryan Parkinson, Kevin Peck, Leevi Selanne, Maxwell Sullivan, Hunter Voyles and Brendan Williams, and goaltenders Jacob Rossi, Fred Taylor, Megan Warren and Brandon Yamasaki.
Johnson is assisted by coaches Kaelin Groon, Jesse Orsini and Kevin Skule, as well as team managers Randy and Anne Loh and game coordinators Annette Taylor and Scott Warren.
Fellow ADHSHL members JSerra and St. John Bosco also competed. St. John Bosco reached the semifinals in Division II before falling to eventual champion Monarch (Colorado), 5-2; while JSerra went 1-2 in pool play in Division I. St. John Bosco’s Dante Terramani led D2 with 15 points while teammate Filip Chudy’s seven goals were the most.