COLUMBUS — The venue was familiar, and so was the result for the opportunistic Northview hockey team that will play for a state championship for a third straight season.
The unranked Wildcats capitalized on two key steals in the state semifinals on Friday to upend No. 6-ranked Columbus St. Charles 3-1 at Nationwide Arena.
The dark horse Wildcats produced two goals off of turnovers and will play No. 1 Cleveland St. Ignatius for the championship today.
Senior center Caleb Rau scored two goals with one coming in the second period and one in the third period.
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VIDEO: Highlights from the game
Senior right winger Cody Estrel scored the crucial first goal for Northview (17-13-1) before a crowd of 3,507 that included a huge throng of Wildcat faithful.
Estrel scored 37 seconds into the second period after senior winger Josh Koback stole the puck with a poke check. After Koback's strong forecheck along the boards, he passed quickly to Estrel, who one-timed it in for a 1-0 lead.
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Rau's second goal came 32 seconds into the third. Junior winger Zack Galecki set up the goal by stealing the puck to get a solo breakaway for himself. St. Charles goalie Alex Ward stopped the first shot, but Rau scored on the rebound.
“We were fortunate enough to capitalize on [the turnovers],” Northview coach Mike Jones said. “Timely scoring and taking advantage of those things is huge. We were active with our sticks on pucks. We tried to suffocate their time and space.”
Northview senior goalie David Marsh earned the win by stopping 20 shots.
St. Charles (34-4-2) entered the semis on a 12-game winning streak. The surprising Wildcats, who finished runner-up last year and won the title in 2012, are peaking after an inconsistent season.
Northview advances to take on St. Ignatius (30-4-5) today in the state final at 2 p.m. St. Ignatius scored three first-period goals to take out No. 4 Mentor Lake Catholic 7-0. St. Ignatius has defeated Northview twice and tied the Wildcats once this season.
Northview avenged a Dec. 28 loss (5-2) to St. Charles, which was making its first state appearance.
Estrel, the team's scoring leader, posted his 20th goal.
St. Charles coach Bob Sangster said both teams were waiting for the other to make a mistake.
“Unfortunately it was us,” Sangster said. “A lot of times it's the timing of the goals. That was a blow. They are a really good team. They had a couple of good opportunities and made the best of them.”
A little more than six minutes later, Northview seized a 2-0 lead. Rau tipped in a shot from Troy Geer.
“There was a shot from the point and there was traffic in front,” Rau said. “I reached my stick out and deflected it. That was huge because it gave the team confidence.”
The perfect deflection by Rau came on Geer's shot from just inside the blue line. The redirection beat Ward (13 saves) over his shoulder.
Marsh (10-6-1) made two solid saves in the early going in a scoreless first period.
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“They came out hard at the beginning,” Marsh said. “Our defense played strong and we pulled together.”
Jones said there was a feeling out process by both teams.
“As the game went on we certainly got better,” he said.
Northview came out flying in the second and Koback's interception led to Estrel's instant goal.
“That took some pressure off,” Marsh said. “[Estrel] can snipe the puck.”
Galecki's steal led to Rau's unassisted goal.
“We don't try to go out and play a skill game,” Jones said. “When skill has an opportunity to shine because of the work and finish hits, that's great. That's when we're effective.”
After Northview killed off a St. Charles 5-on-3 power play, Estrel hit the post with shot. The Cardinals spoiled Marsh's shutout bid with 1:34 left. Marsh did not see the shot as Danny Schirtzing scores on a backhander.
Schirtzinger said the Cardinals' main problem was breaking out of their own zone.
“They read our plays really well,” Schirtzinger said.
The Wildcats have made 11 trips to the frozen four and have finished second five times with one state title. Northview entered the semis as the only unranked team and was 6-10-0 at one point this season.
Jones said it took time for his team to “buy in” and develop confidence.
“They had to decide enough was enough and we came together as one,” he said.
St. Ignatius has made six state semifinals. Ignatius won it all in 2000 and again in 2010 when they defeated Northview 4-1.
“We will have our hands full,” Jones said. “They will be loaded and ready. A lot of things will have to go right. But we will be prepared.”
This season, St. Ignatius won by scores of 3-2 and 5-0. Northview tied Ignatius 1-1 in the last meeting on Jan. 18.
“It will be a hard-hitting game,” St. Ignatius coach Pat O'Rourke said. “These are the two most consistent programs in the state the last few years. So it may be fitting that we're meeting again.”