Chris Wallace has been on back-to-back CHSHL Class A championship teams, but the St. Anthony’s star forward had a feeling about this year’s squad.
“Ever since tryouts there was something special about this team,” he said. “Every player has a role and they do it well.”
No one does it better than Wallace, who scored four goals to help lead the Friars to a 5-3 victory against St. Joseph by the Sea Sunday at Abe Stark Rink in Coney Island.
St. Anthony’s swept the best-of-three CHSHL Class A championship series and will play St. Francis (Buffalo) for the CHSAA state title next Sunday at Nassau Coliseum.
Wallace scored seven of the Friars’ 11 goals in the championship series.
“It’s insane and he just keeps getting better and better,” St. Anthony’s coach Jeff Stelmok said of Wallace. “It seems like he’s willing to accept any responsibility, any role. It’s apparent in the big games this season, he’s put the team on his shoulders.”
Part of what makes Wallace, who plays for the New York Bobcats Junior A travel team, so good is his belief that he’s the best.
“When I come out here I feel like I’m unstoppable, like no one can touch me,” he said. “That’s the way I have to play. Although it might sound bad, it’s that cocky aspect I have to around with on the ice that helps me succeed.”
As he gathered his team together for the first time at Superior Ice Rink in October, Stelmok also thought this year’s Friars had the potential for greatness.
“If you guys dig in, if you buy into the systems, you stay religious, you make your games and you make your practices, this team is going to grow,” he told them. “There’s just too much talent.”
That was evident from the beginning, as St. Anthony’s (20-0-0 CHSHL A) rolled through the regular season undefeated and rarely challenged. The Friars swept Iona Prep in the semifinals and defeated St. Joseph by the Sea, 6-1, in Monday’s Game 1.
The Vikings, though, wouldn’t go down without a fight. Michael Bronzo scored on a breakaway 4:40 into the first period Sunday to give St. Joseph by the Sea (7-9-2) an early lead.
Wallace responded with a pair of goals 20 seconds apart and Joe Loiacono made it 3-1 early in the second period on a delayed penalty.
However, Ty Malone cut the Vikings deficit in half on the power play a little more than two minutes later.
Wallace completed the hat trick 4:56 into the third, but again Sea puled within one on a wrist shot by Phil Garcia with 8:20 remaining in regulation.
“We came out and played with them,” Sea coach Anthony Larca said. “It was a 4-3 game until 24 seconds left, there’s really not more I can ask. I’m very proud of the way my team played. It’s heartbreaking to lose, but if you’re going to lose, it’s going to be to a team like that.”
Wallace finally iced the victory, and a third consecutive championship, with an empty net goal with 24.1 seconds remaining.
“He’s probably the best player in the league,” Larca said of Wallace. “He’s got everything – hands, size, speed and he’s a good kid. I think he’s one of those kids from the league that has a shot to go somewhere.”
Wallace said the Friars dedicated their title to the memory of Marie Drisco, the longtime general manager of the St. Anthony’s hockey program who lost her long battle with breast cancer on Dec. 20.
“It gave each and every one of us that extra thing we needed to win this game and hopefully to win the state championship,” Wallace said.
When the game was finally over, there was a brief celebration and pictures with the Cardinal Terrence Cooke Memorial Trophy, but the party was subdued. That’s because the Friars have one more chapter left in their unforgettable season.
After losing in the CHSAA state final by one goal in each of their last two years, the Friars will attempt to become the first CHSHL team to win the state crown. That could cement these Friars as the greatest team ever – in the nearly 40 years of hockey at St. Anthony’s and the CHSHL, as well.
“This could very well be the best team we’ve ever had,” Stelmok said. “Ask me next week and I’ll let you know because I’m sure everybody is curious as we are to find out how good we really are.”
Contact Dylan Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter: @Dylan_Butler