East Islip, St. Anthony's ice hockey teams eye national championships
Two of Suffolk County’s best high school hockey teams will represent Long Island in the “State of Hockey” later this month.
St. Anthony’s and East Islip, two members of the Suffolk County High School Hockey League, will play for national titles at the USA Hockey National Championships in Plymouth, Minnesota, from March 23-27.
The Friars (23-7) won their second consecutive county championship last month, then became the first team to win back-to-back New York State Amateur Hockey Association titles a week later.
“It’s the tightest team I’ve ever coached,” St. Anthony’s coach Bob Lund said. “They’re super competitive athletes and students.”
St. Anthony’s beat East Islip in the county and state championships, but with a 22-6-2 record, East Islip earned an at-large bid to the national championship, a first for the program since its founding in 1994.
“There’s a lot of talent in Suffolk County that we’ve gone up against,” East Islip coach Jimmy Sutton said. “I feel like we’ve met every challenge that’s come our way.”
After battling each other on Long Island, St. Anthony’s and East Islip won’t share the ice in Minnesota. St. Anthony’s will compete in Division I at the tournament, and East Islip will play in Division II.
St. Anthony’s competed at last year’s national championship in Dallas, Texas. The Friars finished 1-1-1 with a shootout loss. Shattuck St. Mary’s, the Minnesota prep school that developed NHL stars Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, won the championship.
The Friars only graduated two players from last year’s team and boast a roster with 17 seniors this winter.
“There’s more to lose this year,” Lund said. “I believe they’ll be much more focused and dialed in. Last year was much more of, you don’t know what to expect, maybe you’re a little wide-eyed about it. We came off some success back home but didn’t know what to expect when you play on more of a national stage.”
The Friars’ path to this year’s national championship started slow. As defending state champions and national qualifiers, St. Anthony’s started the season 1-4.
“All of a sudden, you get humbled very quickly,” Lund said.
But the Friars snapped out of their opening skid and won 16 of their next 17 games before beating East Islip in the best-of-three county championship.
Nick D’Andrea’s 54 points led the SCHSHL in scoring. D’Andrea scored 31 goals, including 13 in the county and state playoffs.
“It’s the guys I’m playing with,” D’Andrea said. “Jack Dlugos and Gavin Kata. It seems like the puck is always on my stick because they’re giving it to me. Playing with them makes it pretty easy.”
St. Anthony’s top line of D’Andrea, Dlugos and Kata generated 60 of the Friars’ 124 goals this season. All three players, plus forwards Brady Monteleone and Thomas Colavecchio, finished in the top-20 in league points.
But it’s the playoffs, when the stakes are highest, where senior alternate captain Michael Terry Jr. believes his team performs its best. The Friars earned the Suffolk title this winter despite being the No. 3 seed in the postseason.
“It definitely brings out a different type of energy,” Terry said about the playoffs. “Everyone’s more focused, the prayer is louder in the locker room. In school, that’s the only thing anybody talks about.”
Dlugos, the Friars’ senior captain, remembers all the practice he and his teammates put in to earn their second consecutive state and county championship banners. He remembers the smiles on their faces and the unbelievable feeling of victory.
The Friars and their 17 seniors will play a few more games together in the same jersey. Dlugos hopes the maturity of this year’s group will help them in Minnesota.
“Last year we were a junior-heavy team,” Dlugos said. “A lot of the boys we were going against were a year older. But this year it’s the same age, it definitely helps.”
The playoff battles they shared with East Islip, a total of five games between the county and state playoffs, also prepared them for another shot on the national stage.
“They’re definitely a great team,” Dlugos said about East Islip. “We wish them the best of luck. We want to see them get the job done as well.”
East Islip, which led the SCHSHL in goals (129) and goal differential (71) is poised to compete in Minnesota.
“I have all the confidence in the world in this team,” said Sutton, East Islip’s first-year head coach. “We can definitely do some damage in this tournament. We’re going to have some tough opponents, but we’re ready for it. The team is ready.”
East Islip earned the No. 1 seed in the Suffolk playoffs and beat St. Anthony’s four times between the regular season, county playoffs and state playoffs. No other team beat the Friars more than once.
Three players, Ryan Anatra, Thomas Ivers and Anthony Pepe, finished in the top-10 in league scoring. Senior captain Jesse Byrnes said the team talked about reaching the national championship at the beginning of the season.
“We never gave up trailing in the state finals, and never really gave up during the season when we had our slumps,” Byrnes said. “I’m happy already, no matter what happens at nationals.”
Those dreams were important to East Islip early in the season.
Sutton, who joined the East Islip hockey program last year as an assistant coach before his promotion this year, said the team wrote down their individual and team goals on slips of paper at the beginning of the season.
“Everybody wrote down going to states, everybody wrote down going to nationals,” Sutton said. “So that was a big goal for our team. And we’re meeting our goals.”
East Islip scored five or more goals in 19 games this winter and won eight straight games to reach the county championship before qualifying for the state tournament.
Sutton said he had high expectations for his team this season. East Islip has a chance to exceed its goals next week.
“I’ve never been to Minnesota before, it’s going to be exciting,” senior alternate captain Andrew Worst said. “With the group we have, it’s going to be something special.”