Disabato: Providence hockey team ready to make its run for Kennedy Cup
By Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @disabato February 5, 2014 7:06PM
Providence's Jordan Ernst | File photo
Updated: March 7, 2014 1:04PM
One for the record book.
That’s the most accurate way to describe Providence’s amazing hockey season to this point.
A 49-4-4 record, including a 21-0-1 mark in the Catholic League, is unprecedented at the New Lenox school.
“It’s been a good season,” coach Nick Iaciancio said. “Now the stress kicks in.”
Only if you allow it to, Nick.
Providence is six wins from hoisting the program’s first-ever Kennedy Cup.
The recently completed Catholic League regular-season title, too, is a first for the program.
The Celtics open up the Cup playoffs Saturday with a best-of-3 series against eighth-place Mount Carmel, once a powerhouse in its own right.
The Celtics and Caravan have squared off three times this season and each resulted in a decisive Providence victory.
How decisive? Mount Carmel totaled one goal in three games.
However, one should never take an opponent for granted, especially in the postseason. This is hockey, where a hot goalie can transform a mediocre team into a dangerous one.
I highly doubt Providence will succumb to overconfidence. The boys have been on a mission, ever since Iaciancio told the returning players during the offseason that the goal was to produce an undefeated Catholic League campaign.
The boys obliged, albeit with a single tie that occurred Oct. 19 against Benet. If not for that tie, the Celtics would have been the fourth team in 51 years of Catholic League hockey to have recorded a perfect regular season.
Ironically, Iaciancio was on the 1986 Mount Carmel team that accomplished the feat.
“When I told them (players) the goal was to go undefeated, some jaws dropped,” Iaciancio said with a chuckle. “But this (dominance) is what you should get with a team of upperclassmen.”
The most stunning achievement to yours truly is that Providence has not suffered a loss since Thanksgiving — Carmel (Ind.) took down the Celtics 4-2 at a tournament in Ohio. How did Providence respond? By shellacking Carmel 9-1 in a rematch for the championship.
Since then, the Celtics have put the pedal to the metal, winning the prestigious Blackhawks Charities Holiday Tournament, the MLK tourney in Springfield and wrapping the bow on the Catholic League championship.
Great achievements, for sure. However, I’m pretty certain every player on the Celtics roster would trade in those tournament titles for the coveted Kennedy Cup.
“When our season ended last season we said, ‘It’s the Cup or nothing’ for this season,” Iaciancio said. “I’ve never had a team as dedicated as this team has been. They’ve put in the work on and off the ice. The kids are focused.”
Providence is a team without a weakness. The Celtics boast multiple big-time snipers in Rich Yusa, Ben Brandau, Mike Vennetti Jr. and Matt Iaciancio, shut-down defensemen in Jack Dunne, Jordan Ernst, Jake Dillman and Matt Francis and a pair of All-State caliber goalies in Justin Salazar (1.59 GAA) and Ryan Iaciancio (1.28).
“A lot of these kids have been playing hockey together for a long time,” Iaciancio said. “Yeah, we have talent. But these kids are really tight. They hang out with each other. They’re close friends.”
What Providence can’t do during the playoffs is lose its cool. Opponents are going to play physical and try to get under the Celtics’ skin.
The penalty box is no friend.
Opponents have nothing to lose and everything to gain. All the pressure is on the Celtics, who are heavily favored to win the Cup. Iaciancio knows this.
“Some of these guys are going through this playoff pressure for a first time,” Iaciancio said. “We’ve got to be mentally tough to handle this situation. We have to be supportive of one another and, most of all, we have to be disciplined. If we keep our heads and play our game, we’ll be all right.”