Defending champion Westminster Christian Academy has a chance to repeat as the Wickenheiser Cup kingpins.
The Wildcats (14-9-4) will play the Marquette Mustangs (18-8-2). The championship game is set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday (March 13) at the Scottrade Center.
Marquette won the Wickenheiser Cup title two years ago.
Westminster coach Dean Penberthy is in his first year leading the Wildcats.
“As a first year coach it has been a roller coaster ride,” Penberthy said. “We started the season on fire, had a downturn in the second half of the season, and have had a nice run here in the playoffs. Overall it has been a good experience. Frustrating at times, but usually from things outside of mine and my players’ control.”
Penberthy hopes playing for the title again will help the program.
“To get back to the Wickenheiser championship game is a big deal for our program,” Penberthy said. “We are trying to grow, but at the present we only have 19 skaters on our varsity roster, no JV team, and a B team with half freshman and half seventh and eighth graders.
“So, to get as far as we have with the numbers we have has been a nice experience.”
Penberthy didn’t know if his squad would still be playing in mid-March when practice began last fall.
“When we started practice last year I knew we had a pretty good team,” Penberthy said. “I didn’t know at the time if we’d be a Challenge Cup team or a Wickenheiser Cup team, but I wanted the boys to compete and represent Westminster well.”
From last year’s team, Westminster has seven skaters and both goalies back.
“Of those seven, two were injured and couldn’t play, and two didn’t get a shift,” Penberthy said. “I think the experience will help a bit. It’s a bigger stage than we are used to playing on. Bigger crowds, easy to get stuck in awe of the situation.
“We are a young team and will need to use our upper classmen to keep the focus on the game.”
Westminster defeated Fort Zumwalt South in the semifinals to reach the Cup championship opportunity. The Wildcats rallied for a 4-2 victory.
“We were down 2-0 quickly,” Penberthy said. “We didn’t panic and were able to keep chipping away and finally won the game.”
In the second game, the Wildcats dropped a 5-2 decision.
“They jumped us early again, getting out to a 4-0 lead after the first,” Penberthy said. “I saw them do the same thing to Seckman in the quarterfinals second game after losing the first game. We were running around a bit and did not match their intensity and desperation. We put the first period behind us and focused on winning the next two.
“We outscored them in the second 1-0 and tied the third 1-1. We settled in and were playing better the rest of the game, but not enough to overcome the slow start we had.”
The loss tied the series at a game apiece and forced a mini-game to be played.
Neither team scored in the 10 minutes. That forced a sudden death period.
“The mini game I thought we came out and played well, as did Fort Zumwalt South,” Penberthy said. “The sudden death was decided with 40 seconds left with a nice one-timer from Michael Woll to finish the game and series. I was extremely excited for Michael because he wasn’t allowed to play in the first game of the semi finals because he had a AAA practice that evening. Sam Haupfear played well in net the whole evening.”
That led to a celebration by the Wildcats.
“The boys are obviously very excited about moving on to the finals,” Penberthy said. “To win the way we did, in sudden death, made the experience that much more intense. We had a good crowd which added to the excitement.”
In facing the Mustangs for the title, Westminster knows what it will be facing.
The teams met twice in the regular season. The Wildcats won 7-2 and lost 6-0.
“Marquette is a familiar opponent. They are in our conference and we have played them twice this season,” Penberthy said. “Each game with two very different outcomes. In the current high school hockey environment there are a lot of teams that are very evenly matched. In most games it truly depends on how many of your players cannot play because of AAA or Central States hockey commitments, most high school coaches face the same dilemma.
“We are very evenly matched with Marquette. It should be a great game. Marquette is a similar team to us. Some speed, some scoring, defense, and solid goaltending. Both teams should have their full rosters for the game so I expect the game to be a very good one.”
For the Wildcats to claim another championship, Penberthy said Westminster needs to focus on what the squad does well.
“We want to create traffic in front of their net and get shots, reduce turnovers in our own zone and the neutral zone,” Penberthy said. “(We want to) Make their defense turn to retrieve any loose pucks, and be aggressive with our forecheck. (We want to) Move the puck out of our zone with speed and be creative in the offensive zone. ”
It’s been a good season for Penberthy to coach the Wildcats.
“This season has been a great experience for myself,” Penberthy said. “We have a great group of kids who play for each other and are focused on becoming better.
“We have great support from our parents, and team manager Tom Dolan, who puts in an incredible amount of time and effort in making sure things get done.”