Defense has been Catholic Central’s backbone this season
If defense really does win championships, as the old adage goes, then Novi Catholic Central has got to be the odds-on favorite to win the Division 1 Michigan High School Athletic Association state championship early next month.
The Shamrocks, the No. 1-ranked team in both the Super 10 and Division 1, have allowed only 30 goals in 24 games going into their regular-season finale Friday night at Grosse Pointe North.
Coach Brandon Kaleniecki, who has led CC to a 22-1-1 overall mark and a 12-0-0-0 record (14 goals against) in the Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League North Division, said the biggest reason for his team giving up so few goals is its defensemen.
“The top-four defensemen we have right now, they all skate well and they all move the puck well,” Kaleniecki said.
He added that CC’s forwards also do a great job of back-checking.
Both groups have outdone themselves in the past month or so.
Catholic Central has shut out its last three opponents – scoring 17 goals themselves – and has shutouts against its last five Michigan-based opponents. The last time the Shamrocks surrendered a goal to a state team was Jan. 16, when they beat Brother Rice 6-1. Since then the only teams to score against Catholic Central have been out-of-state schools: St. Michael’s of Toronto (6-1 win), Lake Forest Academy of Illinois (3-3 tie), St. Ignatius of Ohio (6-2 win) and Notre Dame Academy of Wisconsin (4-1 win).
Overall, the Shamrocks have allowed only eight goals in their past 10 games.
Obviously, the team has also gotten outstanding goaltending.
Zach Allen has a 1.22 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in 15 games, and Stephen Sleva a 1.28 GAA and .910 GAA in nine games.
“They’ve done a real good job of stopping the puck and making the key saves, especially over the last month and a half or so,” Kaleniecki said.
And while goalies generally get a lot of credit when they have to make a lot of saves, most who play the position say it is most challenging for netminders to stay in games mentally when they don’t face a lot of shots in a game. Both Allen and Sleva have to deal with not facing a lot of shots on a regular basis.
“That certainly is a challenge. We’ve talked to them about staying mentally ready,” Kaleniecki said. “It can be tough to stay involved in the game.”
The state playoffs begin next week, and Kaleniecki likes the way his team is playing heading into the postseason.
“We went through a real tough stretch of tough games against difficult opponents and had some real tough games,” he said. “We had some guys out, and we’re starting to get healthy.”