DETROIT - The Catholic High School League championship game was held at Joe Louis Arena Saturday night for the first time ever, capping off 24 hours of hockey at JLA for the annual Warrior Hockey Day in Michigan celebration.
Catholic Central beat Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 5-3 to clinch their fifth Catholic League title since 2006. The Shamrocks were led by the play of senior captain Nolan Gluchowski, who netted two key goals, and freshman goaltender Spencer Wright – a JV call-up.
“I thought we had a great third period, I thought we were real average in the first two periods, give a lot of credit to Orchard Lake for that being the case,” Catholic Central coach Todd Johnson said. “I don’t know if it was the different ambiance of being at Joe Louis or what, it just didn’t seem like we had the same kind of jump or execution. Obviously, it was a one-goal game going into the third period and I thought we were fantastic in the third period.”
Due to internal disciplinary reasons, the usual varsity goaltenders were unavailable for the contest, paving the way for a breakout performance from Wright.
“Oh, he was fantastic, there’s no doubt about it,” Johnson said. “Those guys, Orchard Lake, did a good job dumping a lot of pucks and that’s not his strength yet at this age to play pucks, so we got our ‘D’ beat up a little bit. He made some key saves for us, never felt like the momentum was going the other way, so good for him, he did a great job.
“He’s a good athlete, he’s going to be a really good goalie in our program, he’s got to bide his time. Did we predict at the beginning of the season that that was going to be what happened? No. But good for him stepping in and getting the job done.”
Another standout in the Shamrocks’ victory was the play of senior captain Gluchowski. Johnson knows the type of skill his captain brings to the ice for his squad.
“Well, he’s certainly our captain and our leader – emotionally, physically he’s gotten himself in great shape. Obviously, his skill level is second to none at the high school level, he’s having a great time leading these guys, I thought he was a fantastic player tonight.”
Johnson feels lucky that Gluchowski stayed for his senior season to suit up with the Shamrocks as a team captain.
“He’s always been a skilled defenseman, he worked himself into being in great shape,” Johnson said. “We’re fortunate that he bypassed some opportunities to play junior hockey to stay his senior year and be a captain. He didn’t take any of that for granted. He’s out there digging his nose in and getting as much out of himself and pushing his teammates as hard as possible. He never one time this year thought that he was an elite player, he’s proving he’s an elite player, and that’s the attitude it takes to be a good captain.”
Both squads came out playing high-tempo hockey, while Wright made two huge stops in close right out of the gate. Catholic Central was able to kill off a St. Mary’s power play with three minutes remaining in the first frame, before Gluchowski scored for the Shamrocks on a slap shot from the point with 22 seconds left, sending his team into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead.
St. Mary’s started the second period on the power play because of a Catholic Central high-sticking minor with no time remaining on the clock in the first. They couldn’t capitalize on the power play but scored a few seconds later when the Eaglets made a stretch-pass to the opposing blue line and then fed junior forward Sean Harrington, who beat Wright.
Shortly after, Catholic Central found themselves with a 5-on-3 opportunity. After failing to score on that chance, senior forward Joe Steele punched one in during a scrum in front of the Orchard Lake net, making it 2-1 for the Shamrocks.
With two and a half minutes remaining in the second frame, St. Mary’s rang a shot off the crossbar during an attack in the Shamrocks’ end. It didn’t take long for the Shamrocks to regain momentum, as Gluchowski found the net for the second time of the evening. He fired the puck from the point again, deflecting it off the sets of legs cluttered in front of the goalie, and into the net.
Orchard Lake started off on a power-play opportunity after the goal because of a taunting penalty from the Shamrocks’ celebration. The Eaglets scored seconds later seconds later when captain Cooper Anstett found the net, making it a one-goal game.
The one-goal deficit didn’t last long for St. Mary’s, as Shamrocks’ forward Charlie Green cut backdoor and slid in Catholic Central’s fourth goal of the game. Catholic Central pounced on the opportunity to continue the scoring effort, adding another goal shortly after, as junior Max Wanko shot a dribbler into the net.
St. Mary’s final push came when Cooper Anstett found the net again with just 2:36 remaining in regulation to make it a 5-3 score.
That’s where the game stayed and Catholic Central walked away with the 5-3 victory, winning the Catholic League championship at Joe Louis Arena.
“It’s a great place to have [the game], it’s an honor, the kids were really excited – almost too excited,” Johnson said. “They felt like they were skating in mud for the first period. I sure hope Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch and the Red Wings are willing to do this on an annual basis, it would be great.”