CORNWELL HEIGHTS – Wearing a target on your back can be both inspiring and nerve-wracking. Every player donning a Holy Ghost Prep ice hockey uniform knows they are marked men and everyone wants to uphold the school’s winning tradition.
Two seasons ago, the Firebirds ice hockey team won the Flyers Cup and then went on to capture the AAA Pennsylvania State Championship. In 2001, 2013 and 2015, they captured the prestigious National Invitational tournament held in Johnstown, New York.
By virtue of their 5-1 conquest of Saint Joseph Prep, this year’s squad has earned a place in the Flyers Cup Championship game against a tough La Salle High School team. They have every intention of repeating past Firebird glory. Junior goaltender Tristan Devine succinctly sums up the team’s aims. “Our one goal is to get to states!”
To achieve their objective, Tristan knows the Firebirds have to beat La Salle. “It’s one of the biggest games but you have to treat it like your average game just with a little more hype. You have to prepare well, be there on time, and give a little extra. If you win this, you go to states.”
Holy Ghost’s showing against Saint Joseph’s gave them some necessary momentum. Tristan, in his first varsity season between the pipes, took a sound approach to this semifinal match-up.
“I just took it as it’s hard to beat any team three times in a row and I’m sure everyone else on the team did also. You have to make sure you don’t do anything dumb. You have to be there and play your best.”
In their two regular season meetings, the Firebirds downed the Hawks 7-2 and 3-1. Striking early and often in the initial period, they showed they were not taking anything for granted. Tom McNulty scored with 3:42 gone from the clock. He was assisted on the play by Luke Aquaro and Luke Lepedes.
Three minutes later, McNulty once again found the back of the Saint Joe net with another assist by Aquaro. Jack Smiley and Alex D’Angelo added two more goals to give the Firebirds a commanding 4-0 lead at the end of the period.
After a scoreless second frame, Saint Joseph put on a furious charge, finally getting on the scoreboard with a power play goal by Anthony Amato. Tristan was equal to the challenge, however, blocking shot after shot. In all, the Levittown resident would record 23 official saves. He showed the moxie of a veteran. “You just have to treat it like any other situation. You have to keep what you’re doing going.”
Luke Aquaro would ice the Holy Ghost victory, scoring an empty net goal with a minute left to play. Tristan and his teammates had gained their confidence boost.
“It felt great. We had gotten off our game a little but came back tough. I feel very confident. We feel we’ll be going into the La Salle game very well. We want to carry some of the momentum we had in the Saint Joe game. I’m anticipating a very tough game. We have to come out and give it our best shot.”
La Salle has already beaten Holy Ghost twice this season by 6-3 and 3-0 scores. To upset the number one seed, the Firebirds will have to play their collective best, an effort Tristan knows will exist.
“We’re all together on and off the ice. We all play for each other. That’s simply it. We’re all there for each other, no matter what. This is one of the best teams I’ve ever played on.”
The team chemistry grows from shared experience. “One of my friends, Shane Stevens, I have been with since I was four. He’s been on every team I’ve ever played on. I know a lot of the other guys like Luke Aquaro and Luke Ledes because I played with them all through my club life. We played at Grundy.”
All the players are versed in just what it means to be a Firebird. “It’s great. Everyone is on your stuff. You always have to be there and make the best decisions. It’s tough because everyone thinks we’re the best so they play their hardest and we have to play our hardest.”
Knowing how to handle such pressure should help Holy Ghost as they take on La Salle in the championship tilt at Hatfield Ice.
TOP PHOTO: Holy Ghost Prep’s Luke Aquaro (68) pressures Saint Joseph’s Prep goaltender Gianni D’Angelo (72) in the Flyers Cup Semifinals held March 16, 2017 at Hatfield Ice. (John Gleeson – 21st-Century Media)