The Notre Dame Prep hockey team reached new heights this season that hasn’t been seen in over a decade in the Saints program.
The team, led by a group of veteran senior leaders, navigated through a regular season threatened by COVID-19 to once again be ranked as one of the top teams in the Arizona High School Hockey Association.
In the state championship game against rival Pinnacle – which had beaten Notre Dame four times in the regular season – the Saints prevailed and beat the Pioneers.
Now, with a state championship trophy in the case at the school for the first time since 2011, Notre Dame is preparing for a run at the USA Hockey National Championship tournament in Omaha, Nebraska in April.
“Hockey has always been a tradition at Notre Dame,” Saints coach Charles Miscio said. “In 2018, we were undefeated, and we lost to Pinnacle in the state finals. So this is a little bit of redemption, which makes it that much sweeter.”
Notre Dame’s victory over Pinnacle in the state title game was thrilling for the couple hundred fans on hand at Oceanside Arena in Tempe. It was the third time in the last 5 years the two had met in the championship, adding more fuel to a rivalry that goes back a decade.
Pinnacle managed to jump out to an early lead in the game before Notre Dame battled back to tie it in the third period. Later in the period, sophomore Tyler Posch scored what ended up being the game winner for Notre Dame.
Posch, who spoke to Notre Dame Sports Information Director Steve Shaff following the championship game, said his game-winning goal was a result of the team’s game plan and ability to stay focused despite an early deficit.
“Our game plan was to just shoot pucks and we knew going in they were going to get a quick one and we got one then ended up winning,” Posch said. “It was hard. Everyone was a little stressed, but we came through and took the win.”
While Posch was named Most Valuable Player of the championship game, Miscio credited goalkeeper Aiden Rettkie for his efforts throughout the state championship tournament. He was key in the Saints’ success all season and limited a high-powered offense in Pinnacle to just one goal.
Much of Notre Dame’s success this season has fallen on the shoulders of the senior leaders involved with the program.
A tight-knit group that knows how to play as a cohesive unit, the seniors have made a considerable impact on the younger skaters, including Posch. Zac Fryer, an assistant coach for the Saints whose son, Alex, is a senior on the program, recognized that group’s ability to take younger players under their wing to help develop them for success at the highest level.
“We struggled early in the season to find leadership, but the seniors showed up near the end of the season,” Fryer said. “They were all in and committed to one another on and off the ice. Nobody was selfish and they realized their roles were important, no matter what it was.”
Like other high school sports programs, Notre Dame was forced to navigate through the season while on edge for a potential shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. .
However, that never happened, presenting a clear path for the Saints to practice and compete. They ran with it and used as momentum to capture the title.
“It’s huge,” senior Aidan Mickey said. “It’s a big reward for all of us and it kind of shows how our season went. Now we just want to go to nationals and bring home another trophy for Arizona.”
It’s the first time in over a decade Notre Dame will compete at the national level representing Arizona. It’s been more than two decades since a program from the Grand Canyon State has returned from Omaha with a national title.
Often times, hockey and Arizona aren’t associated together. In fact, Miscio recalls moments in which fans from other states have scoffed at the thought of an Arizona team competing at a high level. But just like it did 10 years ago, Notre Dame hopes to make a deep run and change the narrative.
“Arizona is always a little hated on when it comes to hockey,” senior Michael Doherty said. “I do think we will do well. It would mean a lot to do well at nationals.”
Notre Dame will begin its quest for a national championship on April 15, where it will be joined by several other high school teams from around the country. It’s an experience every player on the team is thankful to have the opportunity to compete in.
The Saints believe they have hit their stride at the right time. The playoffs and championship game were among the most complete games they have played this season from an executional standpoint.
“We have a never-give-up type of energy,” Alex Fryer said. “Even in the state championship we were down one but managed to score two in the third. We never got down on ourselves.”
Every player and coach are aware of the grit it will take to conquer every opponent they face in the four-day long tournament in Nebraska.
Overall, it’s an exciting experience that also comes with a bittersweet feeling. While they can potentially accomplish something many programs only get a chance to do a handful of times, it will also be the last time the group plays together.
It’s their final chance to create a last memorable experience together on the ice.
“It’ll be exciting, but it’ll also be the end of the road,” senior AJ Martin said. “We are going to go there and want to keep on winning. We won’t want it to come to an end early, so we are going to put up a fight while we are there.”