2018 OHSAA STATE TOURNAMENT PREVIEW
All games at Nationwide Arena, Columbus
The top-seeded team in each of the four district tournaments in Ohio have advanced to Columbus for the state tournament at Nationwide Arena March 9-10. Both semifinal games will be played during the day on Friday, with the two winners moving on to Saturday’s 2:00 p.m. final, where the 2018 champions of the Ohio High School Athletic Association will be crowned.
The state tourney is part of a fantastic weekend of hockey at Nationwide Arena as the Columbus Blue Jackets host the Detroit Red Wings Friday at 7:00 p.m., the Ohio State Buckeyes take on Michigan in the B1G semifinals Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Most of the players, coaches and fans at this year’s event should know their way to the rink as three of the four teams were here last year. As a matter of fact, Toledo St. Francis and University School are both on four-year runs as district champs and Saint Ignatius, the two-time defending state champion, is here for the third year in a row.
Dublin Jerome – the only team in the field without a state championship banner hanging yet – was not here in 2017, but was in 2016. That’s two district titles in the last three years for the Celtics, the local favorites as the Columbus District champs.
State Semifinal – Game 1; 10:00 a.m.
Sylvania District Champion
Toledo St. Francis (25-6-1, ranked #2 in Ohio) vs.
Kent District Champion
University School (24-7-3, ranked #3 in Ohio)
Toledo St. Francis is making their 11th appearance at the state tournament – their fourth in a row – and is going after its third state crown, having won in 2011 and 2015. The Knights lost to Saint Ignatius, 5-1, in last year’s championship game.
Their semifinal opponent, University School, also has two state titles to their name. US won in 2003 and 2009 under Bill Beard. Current head coach Andre Lacroix has guided the Preppers to four consecutive Kent District titles – giving the school 14 in all – but is looking for his first state championship as the bench boss.
Last year, University School lost to Saint Ignatius in a semifinal game that went to triple-overtime. The Preppers would no doubt relish the opportunity to meet the Wildcats again this year – this time in the final – but first things first, and they have their work cut out for them facing St. Francis in the early semifinal.
These two teams have already played each other this season. On December 16, at the Padua Holiday Hockey Tournament, the Knights jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period of that game and held on to win, 4-2.
Nicholas Coward, Gabe Barrow and Nick Daly gave the Knights the 3-0 lead at the first intermission, but St. Francis actually failed to out-shoot University School in any of the three periods and US held the shot advantage for the game. Thomas Barrow was sharp in the Knights crease, making 31 saves.
Toledo St. Francis holds the edge in the all-time series between these two schools, 8-5-2. They have only met once at the state tournament: a 7-1 St. Francis win in a 2015 semifinal game. US has just one win (1-5-1) in the last seven meetings.
State Semifinal – Game 2; 12:30 p.m.
Brooklyn District Champion
Saint Ignatius (28-9-1, ranked #1 in Ohio) vs.
Columbus District Champion
Dublin Jerome (29-6-3, ranked #6 in Ohio)
The last five times the Saint Ignatius Wildcats went to Columbus for the state hockey tournament, they came back with the title, and Patrick O’Rourke’s Wildcats are attempting to win their third Ohio state championship in a row. It would also be their fourth in five years thanks to their seven-overtime tie with Sylvania Northview in 2014 that resulted in both schools being named co-champions.
Only two other teams in state history have won the OHSAA hockey tournament in three consecutive seasons – and they happened in a six-year period: Bob Whidden’s St. Edward Eagles won in 1994, 1995 and 1996 and that run was immediately followed by Bowling Green winning in 1997, 1998 and 1999 under Dan DeWitt.
Saint Ignatius won their first state championship in 2000, and also took home the 2010 title, giving them a total of five. Their opponent, Dublin Jerome, has never gone all the way in the state tournament. They won the Columbus District for the first time in 2015.
The Wildcats have played primarily out-of-state competition this year, but have been the #1 team wire-to-wire in the Ohio High School Hockey Poll.
“We like our group,” said Saint Ignatius head coach Patrick O’Rourke. “But when the Final Four is made up of all four #1 seeds, it's anybody's game.”
Not only have these two schools not played each other this year, they have never met on the ice before.
“Both teams will be using the first few minutes to figure things out,” said O’Rourke. “We have played a lot of unknown opponents this year on the road, so we're somewhat used to that. But I think they will have a huge home-ice advantage with the game being played at 12:30 in Columbus virtually guaranteeing they'll have a bigger crowd.”
The Celtics will no doubt have strong fan support at Nationwide Arena, but it is also fair to say they are underdogs in the match-up with Ignatius. Jerome is the only team of the four remaining never to win at states, and they are the lowest ranked team of the four semifinalists, albeit at #6, in the most recent state poll.
But maybe that makes them dangerous…
For Saint Ignatius, a state title game against either University School or Toledo St. Francis – a marquee match-up either way – will only be a day away, but is that a scenario ripe for over-looking a semifinal opponent that lacks the credentials of the other three teams?
Maybe, but don’t plan on O’Rourke’s team not showing up to play.
“Once the puck is dropped, it's just hockey and we'll do our very best to earn another berth in the state finals,” O’Rourke said. “All we can do is play fast and play hard and see how things go.”