HERMITAGE – Kennedy Catholic High’s athletic program is known for its statewide stage success in basketball. Collectively, girls’ and boys’ KC cagers have copped more than 50 District 10 championships and 11 PIAA crowns.
But this past April a quartet of Kennedy Catholic student-athletes did not so much exhibit ice in their veins attempting last-second free-throws; rather, the ice in their blood filtered down to the blades on their feet as they glided over numerous western Pennsylvania ice-hockey venues.
Santino Multari, David Cochenour, Riley Mastowski and Tommy Malvar were part of the cooperative hockey program with Neshannock High. The foursome helped Neshannock notch the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League Class B Division championship via a 5-1 victory over previously unbeaten Ringgold.
The KC quartet was joined by several other Mercer Countians, including Hickory High’s Micah DeJulia and Lex Moses and Grove City High’s Hunter Harris and Logan Quigley.
The team was led by Head Coach Mark Multari and assistants Matt Smith, Nolan Earl, Kenny Shoup, Tom Malvar and Todd Chamberlain.
In the title tilt at Robert Morris University’s Island Sports Complex on Neville Island, Multari, Harris, Cochenour, Gio Valentine and DeJulia garnered goals, Malvar, Valentine and Colton Chamberlain contributed 2 assists each, and Multari and Quigley also had helpers. In goal Mastowski made a monstrous 53 saves.
Valentine and Chamberlain are products of Neshannock High and Laurel High, respectively.
“Winning a championship with this team was truly something special!” Mastowski mused. “Despite kids being from a few different schools, this doesn’t really divide us as we are really a family and a really tight team.”
Neshannock concluded the campaign with a 16-3-2 overall record. Prior to the championship match Ringgold roared to a collective 2-year 39-0-2 won-lost ledger, last losing in the 2018-19 season to Neshannock.
However Multani maintained confidence: “I thought going in that we (could) play with them; even with their great record and high-powered offense we (could) play with them. We lost to them in overtime earlier in the year. Our team was loose and we felt good about our chances.
“I felt after my early, first-period goal that we could win this, and to be able to score a goal in the championship was one of my career highlights,” added the senior standout.
Between the pipes Mastowski – already stout and stingy – only improved. During the regular season he posted a 2.08 goals-against-average and .920 save percentage, including 3 shutouts. But in the postseason his stellar play resulted in a 1.67 GAA and .956 save percentage.
Regarding Ringgold as the title tilt opponent, Mastowski maintained, “We wouldn’t have wanted playoffs to end any other way. They are definitely a very talented team and there is a reason they didn’t lose in regulation for two years. Both games we played against them were very tough. After we lost to them in the regular season we made it our mission to meet them in the playoffs and beat them when it mattered.”
“I think that Ringgold was a really good team and it felt amazing to beat them,” DeJulia reflected. “It definitely was worth the hard work that our team put in this summer and this season.”
Senior center Harris emphasized, “Winning a championship has been a goal of mine since freshman year. Every year we inched closer and closer to the championship game, but we kept falling short. It was frustrating to see all the Pittsburgh teams such as Ringgold and Burrell get all the credit by the news (media) and Hockey Digest.
“While our program never received any recognition, we knew going into the playoffs that the road to the championship was going to be tough,” Harris continued. “We knew that we would have to play our best in every aspect of the game, which was something that we were lacking throughout the year.
“We came out in the semifinal game against Wilmington and did just that. We played our best overall game of the year, in my opinion,” Harris said. “That win led to the championship against Ringgold – a team that we wanted to upset all year. We came close in the regular season, but again fell short in overtime where they put one past Riley.
“Going into the championship game we all believed in each other,” Harris continued, relating, “Every teammate held the shoulder of the person next to him in the locker room before the game. We have a tradition to always pray in the locker room before we go on the ice, and I remember looking around at the boys and seeing everyone in a circle with their arms around each other.”
This season Multari manufactured 30 goals and 17 assists (47 points) in 18 games. In 3 playoff games Multari garnered 4 goals and 5 assists (9 points).
“Going into every playoff game my emotions were very high because we knew that if we lost, our season would be over,” Multari mused. “I remember how painful the way the last two seasons ended, especially last year in the semifinals to Carrick, losing to them in overtime. I remember how bad the seniors felt knowing their season and high school careers would be over.
“We kind of used that as our motivation all year, to not only play for last year’s team but this year’s team and for all of the seniors like myself, Hunter Harris, Gage Giordano, Zach Steighner, Jake Caravella, Riley Novotny and Andrew Bovo,” Multari added.
The athletic Malvar made his mark, scoring 10 goals and adding 16 assists (26 points) during 18 regular-season matches, then contributing 3 goals and 4 assists (7 points) in 3 playoff games.
Malvar admitted, “I would like to start by saying how surreal the entire experience is for the organization and myself. To persevere through the hardships we faced this year is simply unbelievable! Ringgold is an opponent we wanted to defeat for three years, specifically in regulation (since they had not lost in regulation in 40 games). To do so and win the championship simultaneously is awesome!
“All year the boys and I stayed ‘dialed in,’ wanting to get the monkey off our back and achieve what many thought would be impossible. To put the cherry on top of an enjoyable year will positively affect me forever,” Malvar added.
Also leading the Lancers were Harris (11 goals, 21 assists, 32 points in 18 regular-season games, plus 3 goals, 2 assists for 5 points in 3 playoff games); Cochenour (8 goals and 5 assists (13 points) in 11 regular-season games, plus 3 goals in 3 playoff games); DeJulia (5 goals, 9 assists, 14 points in 14 regular-season games, plus 3 goals in 3 playoff games); Moses (5 goals, 8 assists for 13 points in 17 regular-season games, plus an assist in the playoffs. and Quigley (4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points in 17 regular-season games, plus a playoff assist).
Multari summarized, “To be able to win this championship would be the highlight of my hockey career. To win this championship with my buddies that I have played with for 10 years was awesome!
“I have been lucky to win championship tournaments with these guys and fortunate to play all over the country and Canada with my travel teams, but by far this was the best,” Multari admitted. “My dad (Mark) told the entire team at our victory party that because of our championship victory that we would always be linked together and our banner and trophy with all of names will always be visible for us and everyone to see.”
Echoed Harris, “We were a family and we came together when it mattered. Going out and winning the game was the best feeling I have felt in awhile. I was speechless in the locker room after the game. I didn’t want to end my high school hockey career with a loss in the championship. So winning made hanging up the skates for a little while a tiny bit easier.
“I thank all my teammates and coaches on an unforgettable season. I made a memory that will last a lifetime,” Harris added.
Summarized, Mastowski, serving as spokesman for his teammates, “I feel like our ‘brotherhood’ really powered us through – not only the final game, but all of the season. During the lows we knew the talent and heart in our locker room and we were gonna be okay. We all were on the same page and had a common goal to bring a championship back to Lawrence County.
“I couldn’t have asked more from anyone in that room and we played our best when it mattered, and I’m sad we didn’t get to keep going,” Mastowski continued, concluding,
“Coach Mark constantly preache(d) ... and told us if we won we would have a ‘brotherhood’ that would last us a lifetime. If I remember correctly he actually quoted (former Philadelphia Flyers’ 2-time Stanley Cup-winning coach) Fred Shero’s famous quote, ‘Win together today and we walk together forever.’”