University vs. Columbus St. Charles hockey: Short-handed propensity, overall persistence propel US to seventh state final berth, 6-0

Mar. 8—COLUMBUS — Just because University is spending time short-handed doesn't mean it doesn't have the same sinister intentions when numbers are going its way.

Being that sinister is helpful in instances such as March 8's state semifinal against Columbus St. Charles at Nationwide Arena.

In hostile territory 3.6 miles from St. Charles' campus, that kind of edge is a must — and was that sinister intention ever on display as the Preppers marched one step closer to culmination.

Anthony Messina and Sam Wade contributed shortys early in the opening period, setting the course for US' 6-0 win.

The 36-3 Preppers will take on St. Ignatius, a 6-4 winner over Toledo St. Francis in the early semi, at 1 p.m. March 10 in search of their third state title in program history. It will be the 14th all-Cleveland championship game in Ohio's frozen four.

"We put the systems in place, and we put them in a position to succeed, but they're the ones making the plays," US coach Andy Gerow said.

"(The two short-handed goals) is a huge moment early on. To go down a man and get two out of that was huge."

At 2:06, the Preppers went on the penalty kill after a tripping call. It was merely an opportunity for US to reinforce why it came into Nationwide with 14 short-handed goals on the winter.

First, at 2:23, Wade went for a poker on the forecheck and was successful. The reigning News-Herald player of the year delivered an unselfish tape feed for Messina, who slotted a snapper stickside from the right circle.

Still on that kill, Wade struck again. The senior winger and short-handed maestro generated a breakaway and did well at the left bar for his 55th goal of the season and 11th shorty for a 2-0 lead.

"I think just coming in and really preparing for all occasions," Wade said of his squad's short-handed knack, his included. "We knew what they wanted to do on the power play, so we knew what we had to do to get chances off of that.

"It doesn't matter if you're short-handed. As forwards, you should be trying to score at all times."

In the second, Noah Caballero had a pair of key saves 23 seconds apart on Nick Scharfenberger and Sean Moore, respectively, early in the period.

US goaltender Noah Caballero discusses a 6-0 state semi win over Columbus St. Charles

Had some timely stops in a 17-save shutout & will obviously be a vital factor Sunday in the state final

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) March 8, 2024

At 9:08, Wade created a turnover and shot in. That was blocked, but the loose puck sat for Luke Palmer, who pounced for a wrister wide right, his 27th goal of the year, to go up, 3-0.

Sam Robinson pushed the advantage to 4-0 at 11:16. The junior put a long wrister on net, and a glove-save attempt was to no avail.

Robinson skated toward a boisterous US student section to celebrate, as a larger St. Charles student section stood stoic, a persistent theme after the gut punch that was two shortys out of the gate.

The junior added his second of the afternoon at 8:04 of the third, becoming the 15th News-Herald coverage area student-athlete all-time with at least two goals in the frozen four.

That came after Ethan Roberts' tip of a Carson Barlow shot at 2:45 to make it a 5-0 game.

US coach Andy Gerow & seniors Luca Garofalo, Sam Wade & Anthony Messina discusses goaltending & the development on the blue line this winter after a 6-0 state semi win over Columbus St. Charles

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) March 8, 2024

Now comes a familiar foe on the opposite bench in St. Ignatius, one step away from the ultimate objective. It won't come easy, but US is hopeful heading into its most important game this winter and, of course, one of the biggest in program lore.

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

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) March 8, 2024

"Going into every game, it seems to be the same thing," Preppers senior forward and captain Luca Garofalo said. "If we go play our game, we know only we can beat ourselves. The guys in the room want it more than anyone else. We've been grinding since June.

"This senior class, just after that loss last year (in the state final to Olentangy Liberty), from that point forward, it was just hard work. Putting your head down and getting to work. Never being satisfied with little wins, rivalry wins. We knew that, at the end of the day, we wanted to be in this game on Sunday. And we want to win that trophy. We're not just happy to be here."

Coming soon

For more from this game, as Roberts discusses US' performance heading into the state final, check back March 9 online and in the March 10 print edition.

Here are US pregame player intros

I realize it's not the best video, but I always like to get this from above for my folks in Hunting Valley

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) March 8, 2024


University 6, Columbus St. Charles 0