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Disabato: St. Rita hockey targeting sixth straight Kennedy Cup

St. Ritis seeking its sixth straight Kennedy Cup emblematic Catholic League hockey supremacy. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media

St. Rita is seeking its sixth straight Kennedy Cup, emblematic of Catholic League hockey supremacy. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 15, 2013 1:08PM



One down, two to go.

That’s the number of series St. Rita needs to win if it’s going to win its sixth straight Kennedy Cup, the Catholic League’s equivalent to the NHL’s Stanley Cup.

Sounds fairly simple. Four wins in the next six games.

However, anyone who has watched a Kennedy Cup game knows the task remains one of the most difficult in high school sports.

The tradition, emotion and atmosphere, not to mention the anxiety of trying to beat a hot goalie, is equal parts exciting and suffocating.

St. Rita made quick work of overmatched St. Ignatius in the teams’ best-of-3 Kennedy Cup quarterfinal, winning 8-4 in Game 1 and 4-1 in Monday’s Game 2.

Now comes the hard part.

Before we look ahead, though, let’s take a brief look in the review mirror.

What St. Rita hockey has accomplished the past five years is mesmerizing. Five consecutive Kennedy Cup championships, plus two state titles in three seasons.

Let’s call this miraculous run precisely what it is: a dynasty.

Without question, players win championships, and St. Rita has had some outstanding stickmen during its run, guys such as Chris Cimoch, P.J. Gross, Keith Burchett, Jack McDonnell and Henry Capouch, along with current studs Chris Foley and goalie Marty Napleton.

They not only represent some of the best players in St. Rita’s history, but the finest the Southland ever has produced.

However, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say there is no way St. Rita is in this enviable position without coach Craig Ferguson.

Unless you’ve been out of the country, you’re aware the “Fergie Farewell Tour” is in its final stretch. Yes, Ferguson is retiring.

Not only is the man one of the best hockey coaches the area ever has produced, he’s one of the finest coaches, spanning all prep sports, in state history.

Twelve Kennedy Cup championships: five as coach at St. Rita, four as coach at Mount Carmel and three as a player at Mount Carmel. That’s more rings than fingers, folks.

And two state championships.

Ferguson has a way of getting his players to meet — and sometimes exceed — expectations.

I know what you’re thinking: Will St. Rita, which finished second in the regular season, send Ferguson, 51, into retirement with a sixth straight Cup?

I never would bet against the Mustangs. But winning another Cup is going to require a few choice bounces going their way.

Not only that, they’re going to need Napleton to stand on his head, which he is more than capable of doing, have other players beyond Foley light the lamp and treat the penalty box like Principal Conroy’s office and stay out of it.

“I want to win because I want to win,” Ferguson said. “Not just because it’s my last year. I want this for the kids. I’m sure the kids feel pressure of not being on the team that turns that thing (Kennedy Cup) over to another team.”

Hoisting the Kennedy Cup is all Foley has ever known. The senior, who recorded 20 goals and 21 assists in 22 games this season, has won three Cups and two state titles in his prep career. If there’s a more decorated student-athlete at St. Rita, please step forward.

Foley admits this team doesn’t want to be the one that stops the streak.

“We don’t want to let down the alumni and players who started this streak,” said Foley, a Homer Glen resident. “We want to carry on that winning tradition. I never expected to be able to achieve all of this when I made the decision to attend St. Rita. It’s pretty neat.

“But going 4-for-4 winning the Cup would be icing on the cake. I want to win it just as bad as I ever wanted to.”

To do so, the Mustangs will need to beat the winner of the Benet/St. Viator series in the semifinals. St. Rita was 1-2 vs. Benet, 3-0 vs. St. Viator during the season.

If they can get past the semis, most likely either Fenwick, the regular-season Catholic League champ, or Providence, will be waiting in the finals.

Fenwick arguably is the more talented, experienced team. The Friars are 3-1 vs. St. Rita, including Saturday’s 3-0 win at Soldier Field.

Despite the goose egg, if the Friars have a weakness, it’s in-between the pipes.

That’s why it would not surprise yours truly if Providence upsets Fenwick to land in the finals. The Celtics have plenty of firepower, even with the loss of Rich Yusa to injury. Ben Brandau, Mike Vennetti and Jordan Ernst rank among the top scorers in the Catholic League.

Still, with five straight Kennedy Cups, this is St. Rita’s Cup to lose.

“Coach has said it clearly to us, ‘Don’t try to win this for me,’ ” Foley said. “But it’s still in the back of everybody’s mind. We want to send him out the right way. He built this program into a powerhouse.”



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