St. John’s junior forward Ian Rapp has 44 goals and 35 assists for a team-high 79 points. The Titans are 22-7-5 and ranked No. 2 in Ohio.
Call it the Titanic Tilt at Tam-O-Shanter III.
For the third straight season in early March, the stage has been set for another intense championship. St. John’s Jesuit and Northview faceoff Saturday in a third consecutive district title game with a berth in the state semifinals on the line.
The Wildcats have seized the upper hand, winning the last two showdowns, and are looking to make a third straight trip to the state title game.
The Titans have suffered two one-goal losses to Northview, including in heartbreaking fashion last season. St. John's also fell to St. Francis in 2011 and has not reached Columbus since 2009.
Yet St. John’s (22-7-5) comes into the 7 p.m. game as the No. 2-ranked team in the state against unranked Northview (15-13-1).
“It’s a blast,” Northview coach Mike Jones said. “It will be a battle. Year-in and year-out, St. John’s is an elite team. It’s a big beast.
“We just hope that we go out and execute and play with a passion. We think good things can happen. We understand what were up against. It’s a big bad bear, and we will do what we can to tame it.”
Led by 14 seniors, St. John’s has both depth and experience.
“We have a lot of guys that we rely on and this will not be new to them,” Hayes said. “They have all played in a lot of competitive games. It’s not new for Northview either. We have a very mature team. The magnitude should not be too big.”
The schools have each won a state title in the last seven years.
The powerhouses have split two games this season. The Titans took a 7-3 victory Dec. 13, then the Wildcats prevailed 4-3 in overtime Jan. 11.
“The split gives both teams some wherewithal,” Jones said. “It’s easier for both teams to play with a little confidence.”
Both are backstopped by strong senior goaltenders.
St. John’s goalie Mike Barrett (17-7-5) has a 1.43 goals-against average. He also has seven shutouts and a .931 save percentage. Barrett, who has started since his sophomore year, will be playing in his third district championship.
Northview’s David Marsh (8-6-0) has a 2.15 goals-against average. Marsh stopped 34 shots to get the win in last year’s district final.
“Mike Barrett is as good as it gets in this state,” Jones said. “He is a brick wall. I hope we can figure it out. David is more under the radar. He will be ready to go Saturday night. He is a warrior.”
Barrett was the difference maker last Friday when he finished with 24 saves in the a 2-1 victory over St. Francis de Sales. The 6-foot, 185-pound goalie made his biggest stop on a penalty shot with 32 seconds left.
“The way he played in the second period and last three minutes of the game was unbelievable,” Hayes said. “He competes. He never gives up on a play. He’s athletic and makes the big saves.”
Barrett expects his team to carry momentum into the district final.
“We just have a fire ... right now,” Barrett said. “I just do my job and let everyone else take care of the rest. We’ve had such a strong D-zone.”
Marsh gave equal credit to his blue-liners.
“We’re battling for each other,” Marsh said. “Our defense has been phenomenal. We’re thinking about St. John’s. But it’s all about day by day and getting practice and getting to work.”
St. John’s has been led offensively by junior forward Ian Rapp, who has a team-high 79 points with 44 goals and 35 assists. Senior forward Caleb Hauenstein is second with 46 points (13 goals, 33 assists), and junior forward Nick Baumgartner is third with 39 points (11, 28).
Senior defenseman Ben Hamilton (10, 28) and Dominic Horvath (10, 21) also have posted more than 30 points. Senior forward Jake Roman has 22 points (11, 11), and senior forward Nate Miller has 21 points (7, 14).
Northview’s offensive leader has been senior forward Cody Estrel with 45 points (19, 26). Junior Josh Koback is second with 37 (14, 23), followed by his senior brother, Jake Koback, with 32 (13, 19). Senior forward Caleb Rau has 22 points (11, 11), followed by junior forward Ian Clement’s 21 (6, 15). Senior defenseman Kooper Carter has 18 points (14, 4), and junior forward Zack Galecki has 17 (7, 10).
Last year the Titans also were ranked No. 2, while Northview was fifth. In 2012, Northview was No. 2 in the final state poll, while St. John’s sixth.
In last year’s district final, Barrett made 15 saves but Northview’s Zander Pryor scored two goals just 14 seconds apart with less than four minutes left to lead the Wildcats to a stunning 3-2 victory. As a sophomore, Barrett made 28 saves in the district final but the Titans still fell 2-1.
“It means absolutely nothing,” Jones said. “It’s different groups and attitudes and emotions. We have a one-game playoff on Saturday. What we did to them or they did to us is out the window. If you live in the past, you’re always a little depressed, and if you live in the future, you’re always too anxious, so we tell them to live in the moment.”
Hayes said the two games don’t play into Saturday’s showdown.
“Last year certainly motivates us for this year,” Hayes said. “But who we play has no bearing. We’re trying to accomplish our goal to be in the final four and we have to win this game.”
St. John’s won its second consecutive Northwest Hockey Conference Red Division title with a 6-1-1 record. A team from the Red has reached the state championship game in five consecutive seasons.
In 2007, St. John’s broke through with the first state hockey title for a Toledo-area team. Northview won its first state title in 2012.
The Titans have reached the final four 14 times, and Northview 10.
“It’s great that 2007 is part of our program’s history,” Hayes said. “But these kids want to make their own history. They want to have their own legacy.”
Jones said the Wildcats’ season has not played out the way he thought it would. He said injuries and illnesses led to a 4-7 start, including 0-4 at the Parma Padua holiday tournament.
But he said the pressure of expectations is a privilege.
“I’d much rather have that than nothing to strive for,” Jones said. “The kids have embraced that. You can’t put yourself above the team. You have to have all 20 guys pulling on the same rope. They have to put personal goals aside and live for something bigger than themselves.”