High school hockey: Notre Dame Prep Saints go marching in … to nationals

Notre Dame Prep passes around the trophy to give it a celebratory kiss, including one from forward Mason Lorraine after the team won the state title. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – The last time Notre Dame Prep won an Arizona High School Hockey Association state championship skinny jeans were still in style, TiK ToK was just a song by Kesha and the year was 2011.

Notre Dame’s victory against Pinnacle High School during Friday’s state championship game at Oceanside Ice Arena ended that dry spell, but it means much more than a banner to the program. The Saints also secured a spot in the USA Hockey National Championship tournament in April.

The rivalry between Pinnacle (19-1) and NDP (16-6) is deep-rooted and dates back more than a decade.

“This (victory) was one of our objectives,” said Notre Dame coach Charles Miscio. “Not only to win the season, but payback.”

For Miscio, the victory represents a measure of vindication.

“Three years ago, I had two boys on this team.” Miscio said. “We went undefeated and then Pinnacle knocked us (out).”

Friday’s meeting was the third time in the past five years that the teams had faced each other in the Division 1 State Championship game in the AHSHA, which is an independent high school hockey league.

For the first time in those three meetings, Notre Dame skated away with the championship trophy.

Notre Dame Prep forward Reed Gramlich (left) looks down the ice for an open teammate, in an effort to get the puck out of Notre Dame Prep territory. The victory advances the team to nationals. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

“Where Pinnacle has around 80 kids that come to tryout, NDP only has 30 kids,” said former Notre Dame coach Joe Dusbabek. “Considering our talent is coming from a way smaller pool, we’re doing all right.”

Friday’s game started off slowly for the Saints with Pinnacle scoring the only goal through the first two periods.

Miscio’s message to his team: remain calm.

“I am still not nervous, I wasn’t nervous a week ago, I wasn’t nervous this morning, and I wasn’t nervous (when we were losing in the game),” he said.

During the second intermission, “We decided we needed to shoot the puck more and shoot low,” said Notre Dame senior Aiden Rettke.

And that’s just what the Saints did.

Early in the third period senior Andrew Pessin tied the score, and with 8:09 remaining in the third period sophomore Tyler Posh scored again, putting Notre Dame ahead with what ended up being the game-winning goal for the Saints, who held on to secure a 2-1 victory.

Notre Dame Prep defenseman AJ Martin (right) maneuvers the puck out of Notre Dame territory, while Pinnacle forward Adam Katheder (left) attempts to steal the puck. The 2-1 victory ended a decade drought for Notre Dame. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

“Our game plan was just to shoot pucks,” Posh said. “We got one in and then another one.”

It was a simple game plan, but one that had not proven very effective during four earlier matchups. In the four regular-season games the teams played, Pinnacle was 4-0.

“They beat us four times this year, fair and square,” Miscio said. “But we got them when we needed to, and all it takes is one (victory.)”

And it’s a feeling that the Saints are not taking for granted.

“We worked so hard for this all season,” Rettke said. “I had to play my heart out in case this was my last game, and it just feels so great to take it home.”

Any other year, Friday’s game at Oceanside Ice Arena would have been packed, barely leaving room for a standing-room overflow crowd. However, due to occupancy limits because of COVID-19, only 230 were people allowed in the building, which is 25% of the facility’s occupancy – and the number included players, coaches, referees and fans.

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“Each team was given a select number of wristbands,” said Kenny McGinley, president of the AHSHA. “So it was up to them to distribute. Some siblings got in and some girlfriends got in, but they only had 100 tickets, including players and coaches.”

For those who were not able to attend, a live stream was available on YouTube.

While this victory may give Notre Dame a temporary edge over Pinnacle, the rivalry will continue.

“It’s a great rivalry, and I think we have years to come of the rivalry,” Miscio said.

Looking ahead, the Saints will head to Omaha, Nebraska April 15 for the USA Hockey National Championships, a trip they have not made in the past decade.

“We’re going to go there and win it all,” Posh said.

Miscio said the Saints will take a week off, and then “hit the ice hard and go back to three or four practices a week.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jenna Mazel expects to graduate in spring 2021 with a degree in sports journalism. She is working for Cronkite Sports this spring.

Alina Nelson uh-LEE-nuh nEHl-suhn
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Alina Nelson is a sports journalist and photographer who expects to graduate in August 2021. Nelson, who has seven years of photography experience, is working for Cronkite Sports this spring.