A newfound determination built through devastating losses may be the final intangible the St. John's Jesuit hockey team needs to make it back to the state final four.
The Titans seem to have all other facets of the game effectively covered: Good goaltending, balanced scoring, shutdown defense, and terrific special teams.
St. John's (23-7-0) has been ranked No. 2 in the state in the coaches poll every week since Dec. 19. The Titans were the first Toledo metro area program to capture a state hockey title in 2007.
The Titans had similar credentials the last two years but both the seasons ended with losses to the eventual state champions in the district final.
Northview defeated St. John's 2-1 in the district title en route to a state title last year. St. Francis de Sales knocked out the Titans 7-4 and went on to win the 2011 state championship.
“Last year I told them to remember the feeling,” coach Mike Hayes said. “The overall attitude this year is more determination and there is a lot of character in the room. We've talked about it a couple times. But they know what happened.”
Junior goalie Mike Barrett said the team doesn't want to experience the same emotions.
“We want to go to Columbus,” he said.
Senior forward Austin Kelly, the team's leading scorer, said the Titans have all the pieces of the puzzle this year.
“We have great leadership. We get scoring from all ages, from our seniors to our sophomores. We have a great goalie, and our defense is strong,” Kelly said.
Senior forward Colin Suter, the team's third-leading scorer, said the returning players recall the sting clearly.
“To lose to the state champions two years in a row definitely leaves a bitter taste,” Suter said. “It's big motivation for this year.”
Suter said he believes the previous Titan teams had the skill level to win the district.
“But what sets this team apart this year is our attitude,” he said. “We're all in it for the common goal.”
Hayes also believes his team has all the ingredients to be successful.
“Any good team has a great goalie and has some go-to scoring and is deep. I think we have all of those components,” he said. “We've been able to roll four lines almost every game.”
Senior defenseman Ryan Rapp said his team also is one of the most well-conditioned teams in the state.
“We have a lot of seniors [seven] and a really skilled and deep team,” Rapp said. “We just need to come to play.”
Barrett has assumed the No. 1 goaltending duties and has six shutouts. He has an 18-6-0 record with a 1.67 goals-against average. His save percentage is .929.
“Mike has been outstanding this year,” Hayes said. “In the games against good competition, he comes up big. At times we haven't been sharp in front of him and he has kept us in games.”
St. John's has six players that are averaging more than a point per game.
Kelly and Ian Rapp, a sophomore, have exchanged the team lead in goals throughout the season.
Kelly has a team-high 24 goals and also leads in assists with 41.
“It makes it easier because other teams can't just focus on me,” Kelly said. “Anyone can get it done on any given night.”
Ian Rapp ranks second in goals scored with 22 and is second in assists with 37.
“They both play on different lines and can control the game when they are on,” Hayes said.
Kelly is paired up Suter, who has scored 21 goals and dished out 29 assists. Three other players have played on the line.
Hayes said he often mixes up his lines to ensure balance.
But Ian Rapp is always paired with sophomore Adam Butler (19 goals, 10 assists).
Ryan Rupp, Ian’s brother, has 25 assists and seven goals.
Suter said it is hard for other teams to match lines with St. John's.
“We can score goals in any situation,” Suter said.
Junior Caleb Hauenstein has 23 assists and has scored eight goals.
St. John's has already clinched its third Northwest Hockey Conference title under Hayes, who is in his 10th season. The Titans went 9-1-0 to win the NHC Red Division.
The Titans were in Grand Rapids, Mich., at a showcase tournament last Friday when they learned they had won the NHC outright after Northview lost to Findlay.
“Within an hour of winning a big overtime game we found out we clinched the division. It was a nice night,” Hayes said.
The Titans have trailed No. 1-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius the entire season in the state poll.
“We pay attention to it, but I don't get caught up in it because it doesn't guarantee you anything,” Hayes said.
He pointed out that the team that was ranked No. 1 last season, St Ignatius, did not even make it to Columbus.
Hayes said frequent substitutions allows his players to stay fresher. They are particularly more effective on special teams.
“Our special teams have been good. We've scored a ton of shorthanded goals,” Hayes said.
In fact the Titans have scored nearly as many shorthanded goals (15) as they've given up while on the penalty kill (18).
The Titans have killed off 87.3 percent of their penalties and scored on 33.8 percent of their chances on the power play. The net percentage is 121.1.
“In the NHL if you are over 100 percent you are doing very well. In high school you should be more at 110 or 115 percent,” he said.
Ryan Rapp said the Titans have players who can shoot the puck from the point, including himself. Junior Ben Hamilton (6 goals, 18 assists) and senior Jimmy Scott also have contributed.
“Our forwards will grind in front of the net and bury the rebounds,” Rapp said.
Rapp said it would “mean everything” to get to Columbus.
“We've never gotten down there before, so it would be a new experience for the whole team,” Rapp said.
Barrett said it would not only mean a lot to the school but also the area.
“It would be huge for northwest Ohio to bring it home three years in a row,” Barrett said.
Added Kelly: “Getting a second one for St. John's would be huge.”
Hayes, who has has a 228-96-21 overall record, has led the Titans to two final-four appearances. They finished runner-up in 2009.
“It seems like forever ago really,” Hayes said of the 2007 title. “None of these guys were a part of it. To them this is their time and I want to make sure they take advantage of every opportunity they have.
“I tell them all the time, all the sacrifices you have to go through to get there are all well worth it.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.