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University hockey: Third-liner Ethan Roberts contributes to state finalist's selfless mantra

Mar. 9—Ethan Roberts gets it as well as anyone.

For University to achieve and plot the objectives it has this winter, contribution has to come from up and down the lineup.

In some programs, third-line duty usually means inexperience, varying shift quality and in turn — and with all due respect — a dropoff.

Not at US. And not if Roberts has anything to say about it.

That mission was on display March 8 as the Preppers reached one step closer to the only thing in 2024 that will bring them satisfaction.

Roberts had a third-period goal as US recorded a comprehensive 6-0 state semifinal win over Columbus St. Charles at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. Up next is the Preppers' seventh state final in program history at 1 p.m. March 10, as the 2024 state champion is settled within the Greater Cleveland family against St. Ignatius.

US couldn't have been more thorough in doing its part, riding the wave of two short-handed goals in the opening period to the winner's circle.

"We rely heavy on that first line, and (Sam Wade and Anthony Messina) got us going with the shortys," Roberts said. "Obviously, you expect when you go down a guy not to be so dominant like that. But they got us going early, and it kind of rolled from there. It was big to get those two shortys early.

"I think it all goes back to the coaching. We have such a great coaching staff. They prepare us well — penalty kill, power play, all through our practice during the week. So we have set plays that we run, and we're ready for situations if we get on a puck first. Guys are ready to fly."

The junior will have a memory coming out of that semi he'll treasure.

Roberts stationed himself in front for a tip of a Carson Barlow wrister at 2:45 of the third to make it 5-0.

It was Roberts' eighth goal of the season and makes him the 41st News-Herald coverage area student-athlete all-time to light the lamp in the frozen four.

"I got out there, and Luca (Garofalo) was out there late — he's on the second line," Roberts said. "I fed it low to Luca I think, and it got up to Barlow. We've been taught to go to the net, so I just went to the net. I had my stick down, he shot it low. It was a great shot, and I was able to get a stick on it and it went five-hole."

Being adept on redirects might be attributable, at least in part, to being a golfer in the fall and the kind of hand-eye coordination to be an accurate striker there. Roberts is a two-time Division I district qualifier, including an 82 this past fall as the Preppers took sixth at the Pine Hills District.

"Yeah, I think so," Roberts said. "I also practice tips before games with Finn Bryan. He's a third-pair defenseman, and we work on tips before the games and in practice all the time. All that preparation kind of went into it, and it paid off today."

Ask US coach Andy Gerow or anyone with an inkling of the broader picture on the bench, and they'll tell you: Part of what makes the Preppers as dangerous as they have been, 36-3 and seeking their third state title, has been adept third-line play from Roberts (8-5-13), Mark Filippelli (9-7-16) and Patrick Corcoran (8-6-14).

US coach Andy Gerow discusses the key to 2nd/3rd line play in a 6-0 state semifinal win over Columbus St. Charles pic.twitter.com/PhrZzMvNCw

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) March 8, 2024

Third-line shifts may not be the most flashy, but Roberts knows their value and takes pride in delivering that component.

"Even on the third line of forwards that I'm on with Pat and Mark, we're a pretty gritty line," Roberts said. "We love to work down low. Greasy goals. We don't really go for the pretty over-the-shoulder type of things. That's what we pride ourselves on, and that's what we work on and what we practice. That's what delivers in the game.

"It's easy to rely on the White (first) line — Wade, (Luke) Palmer and Messi. They're unbelievable players. They get us going almost every game. But you can't only rely on them, especially when we're this late in the season. We're playing really good teams that only have lines like that. So we can kind of take our matches being a second and third line. Being able to get an inch or two on another team's third line, to kind of get the momentum going, is huge for us as a team."

It's been striking throughout this winter to hear US' message consistency: When it plays its game, selfless and relentless, it believes it can be the best team in Ohio. The Preppers are one game away from proving it for the ages.

This will be a rubber match with the Wildcats, as US got a 5-4 win over the holidays in Greater Ohio Hockey League play and took a 1-0 loss in the GOHL tournament final, both at Brooklyn.

Roberts gets it as well as anyone. For US to achieve and plot the objectives it has this winter, contribution has to come from up and down the lineup.

He hopes the Preppers can show that depth one more time to reach the pinnacle.

"Ignatius is a great team," Roberts said. "But we're a great team as well. We know that. We're a deep team from forwards, defense and goalies. Noah and Cooper (Pettipiece) are the two best goalies in the state in our eyes. So we're ready to go against Ignatius.

"I know in the first game, it was a 5-2 game until two or three minutes left. That bout in the GOHL championship game was a little bit different. Obviously, it was a lot lower scoring. We're confident. We're ready to play. But we know that we've worked harder than any other team. We lift way earlier than everybody else. We start all the way out in June. When our rink was shut down, we were practicing at 6 a.m. in Euclid or 9:30 on a Friday night at Winterhurst. We're able to outwork teams, and that's what we pride ourselves on. So we know Ignatius is a good team. But we're a good team, too. We're ready to come on Sunday."

University vs. St. Ignatius

What: State championship game

When: 1 p.m., March 10

Where: Nationwide Arena, 200 West Nationwide Boulevard, Columbus

Records: University 36-3, St. Ignatius 27-8

Head-to-head this season: Dec. 28 — University, 5-4 (GOHL regular season); Jan. 21 — St. Ignatius, 1-0 (GOHL tournament final)

Head-to-head in frozen four: 2017 semifinal — St. Ignatius, 4-3 (2OT); 2016 final — St. Ignatius, 4-3; 2010 semifinal — St. Ignatius, 5-1