By Ross Forman
Brother Rice made a quick, bold, loud statement Oct. 30 that it is a team to watch in the Chicago Catholic League and come state tournament time, too.
The Crusaders that Sunday afternoon played host to Benet Academy at the Oak Lawn Ice Arena, a rematch from their Oct. 8 game, won by Benet, 4-2.
In the second game between these schools, Brother Rice struck first, and fast.
Matthew Moro scored 14 seconds into the game on assists from Joseph Dvornik and Tim Kirkwood. Brother Rice was ahead 4-1 after the first period, and though Benet tied the score 4-4 early in the third period, it was the Crusaders who added two more for the 6-4 win.
“What (that win) shows our boys is we can beat anyone,” said Brother Rice head coach Paul Manning, 47, who lives in Chicago and is in his second season.
Brother Rice finished 11-8-1-2 last season in league play.
“We feel (this) season started out a bit slow,” Manning said. “As we continue to practice hard and learn from our mistakes, each game gets better. We have lost a few games, however, (in which) we out-shot our opponent. We are learning that in order to score goals we need bodies in front of the net. We cannot count on the pretty goal; we need to get dirty.”
Beating Benet was certainly a statement.
“Last year was the feeling out process for the coaching staff and the team,” he said. “We have grown as a unit and know what we need to do to get these kids to buy into what we want. Win or lose, we want these kids to be great kids and move onto college and be successful in life.”
And it looks like this Crusaders team will be successful this season on the ice, too.
Goaltending and defense are the key for Brother Rice. Goalie Josh Moro can be the difference maker, Manning said. Alec Aiello, Timmy Kirkwood, Dylan Misch and Billy Jeffers are the glue on defense. “We have goal-scorers, but goaltending and defense wins championships,” Manning said.
Key returners are seniors Timmy Kirkwood, Ryan Hanacek and Bret Bagus, plus junior Alec Aiello. They are the Crusaders’ top scorers and key defensemen.
Key newcomers include sophomores Billy Jeffers, Matt Moro and Ethan McCarthy. “They are young, but show a huge upswing and have been difference makers on this team,” Manning said.
The Crusaders top three scorers are Hanacek, Bagus and Kirkwood – and they “can control a game,” Manning said. “If they score and take control of the game, we win. They need to continue to put the team on their back and be leaders.”
The Crusaders’ special-teams units are a priority, especially since the team has so far found itself in the penalty box extensively. “Our power play is also a priority,” Manning said. “The game of hockey has changed. No longer can you play rough, so we need to execute on special teams.”
Sophomore Matt Moro, skating on the team’s top line, could have a standout season – and he scored twice against Benet. “If he continues to score, we have more threats and that’s huge,” Manning said. “On defense, we have Alec Aiello, a junior who we are leaning on,” though defense is not his normal position. “He has shown great leadership and his work ethic is like no other on this team,” Manning said. “He has shown great skill and has helped us on the back end.”
Manning said goalie Moro, a junior, is solid in net and the “key to the future of this program.”
“Josh is not only making the first save, but he also is able to make those tough second and third (saves), which are pivotal.”
Brian Jacque is an assistant coach, who Manning said “runs so many parts of the team and is an integral part of this program. His knowledge of the game and passion for the game is a huge impact on these kids.”
Dave Reardon and Jeff Aiello also assistants. Aiello runs the team’s video portion for the varsity. He cuts film and sends it to the players. “We feel this is an important part of the program that will help get us over the top,” Manning said.
Providence and Benet are, it appears, the cream of the Catholic League cup. Brother Rice is rapidly rising.
“The Kennedy Cup, to the coaching staff, is our No. 1 priority,” Manning said. “We love tradition and to carry that trophy would be huge. Depth is a key to go far in state. If our third line is playing well, we can go far.”
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.