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Disabato: Providence vs. Benet should be a monster Kennedy Cup final

Providence's Rich Yus | Allen Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media

Providence's Rich Yusa | Allen Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 7, 2014 12:44PM



The team has won a Thanksgiving tournament, a heralded Christmas tournament, even a Martin Luther King tournament.

Grand accomplishments, all.

However, they pale in comparison to the holy grail of hockey championships, the Kennedy Cup.

For Providence, all that’s mattered this season is winning the Cup, which never has taken residence in New Lenox.

I have a strong feeling, puckheads, that’s about to change in the next few days.

The best-of-3 final against Benet begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Arctic Ice Arena in Orland Park.
Game 2 is 4:50 p.m. Saturday at Seven Bridges Ice Arena in Woodridge.

Providence’s preference is to not have to play a winner-take-all Game 3.

“The kids are anxious,” Providence coach Nick Iaciancio said. “This has been the goal since Day 1: to get to the Kennedy Cup.”

And, of course, to win it.

This should be a magnificent series, one filled with skilled players, top-notch goaltending and over-the-top fan support.

Providence is 55-4-4 on the season, including 21-0-1 during Catholic League regular-season competition. The Celtics were as dominant as their record suggests, leading the league in goals scored (125) and fewest goals against (32).

Benet is no slouch, going 15-6-1 in league play and boasting the third-most goals scored (104) and second-fewest allowed (47).

Translation: Get ready for a whale of a series.

“We’re expecting a tough series,” Iaciancio said. “They can put the puck in the net and they have good goaltending.”

The Celtics’ only league blemish — that darn tie — came against Benet way back on Oct. 19.

Providence and Benet have played one another five times this season. The Celtics are 4-0-1, though each game has been close. The largest margin of victory for the Celtics was two goals (a 3-1 final).

But to borrow a phrase from the great Al Davis, just win baby.

And the Celtics have been winning at an astounding clip all season. They won the prestigious Blackhawks Charities Holiday Tournament, leaving a slew of elite north suburban powerhouses in their wake, and beat Benet twice at a Martin Luther King tourney in Springfield.

I’m certain you’re familiar with the old saying that it’s difficult to beat a team three times in one season. If Providence is going to lay claim to its first Kennedy Cup, it will need to beat Benet six times.

An enormous achievement, for sure. Benet is an excellent team, led by three of the Catholic League’s top points producers in Evan Langer (15 goals, 23 assists), Thomas Feldman (21 goals, 11 assists) and Robert Ernsting (19 goals, 13 assists). Plus, the Redwings have two outstanding goalies in Kevin O’Hara (2.68 goals-against average) and Justin Davidson (1.11).

“They have three or four guys who can put the puck in the net,” Iaciancio said. “They have an All-State goalie (O’Hara). They’re a very good team.”

Providence, though, is a great team, one without weakness. All four lines can generate offense, though Ben Brandau (18 goals, 15 assists) Rich Yusa (17 goals, 15 assists), Matt Iaciancio (10 goals, 17 assists) and Mike Vennetti Jr. (17 goals, 9 assists) rank among the Catholic League’s best. The Celtics’ defense is stifling, and the 1-2 punch in goal of senior Justin Salazar (1.59) and freshman Ryan Iaciancio (1.28) is splendid.

“We need to play our game,” Nick Iaciancio said. “I think the biggest thing is to stay out of the penalty box. We’ve been doing a good job of that during the playoffs.”

It’s a trend that must continue if Providence is going to achieve its goal. The Celtics have exhibited great discipline during series sweeps of Mount Carmel and Fenwick. Giving Benet, which brought out the broom against St. Viator and Notre Dame, man-advantages is akin to delivering the Kennedy Cup to Lisle.

If Providence plays smart, it should make history.

“I think the kids are ready,” Nick Iaciancio said. “It should be a great series.”



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