Santa Margarita Catholic High School’s quest for a second USA Hockey National Championship in three seasons came up just short Monday in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Eagles fell, 3-1, to fellow Western Prep League member Regis Jesuit of Colorado in the championship game.
The title game was a rematch of a round-robin game at Nationals, which Santa Margarita had won, 2-1. The teams also met during the season as members of the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League’s new Western Prep League.
Santa Margarita, as was its pattern during the tournament, scored first in the championship game. Michael Fary converted on the power play with assists from Tyler Gebauer and Regnars Udris 4:54 into the second period.
Regis tied the score with a power-play goal with 4:51 to go in the second period, then took the lead 5:20 into the third. That’s how it remained until Regis scored into an empty net with 14 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Eagles bounced back from a 3-2 shootout loss to Jesuit College Prep (Texas) in their opener to win four consecutive games and reach the final. They allowed just five goals in the four victories. Santa Margarita defeated North Broward Prep (Florida), 3-1, and Regis Jesuit, 2-1, to earn a quarterfinal berth.
Santa Margarita won twice on Sunday to set up the rematch with Regis Jesuit. The Eagles defeated Brentwood (Tennessee), 3-1, in the quarterfinals as Gregory Bennett and Gebauer scored to establish a 2-0 lead, and Danta Saccacio scored an insurance marker with a shorthanded goal midway through the third period. Santa Margarita outshot Brentwood, 40-12.
The Eagles used a similar formula to defeat Edina JGA (Minnesota) in the semifinal, scoring the first two goals (by Fary and Cavin McClare). After an Edina goal, Udris responded on a power play off an assist from Saccacio. The two then reversed roles on the final Eagles goal early in the third.
Dylan Gluck made 18 saves for Santa Margarita, which outshot Edina, 35-20.
The Eagles were strong defensively all tournament, allowing just 11 goals in six games, including the empty-netter in the final. Gluck and Jack Hardwick split time in net.
Bennett, Udris and Gebauer led the Eagles with five points in the tournament, while Saccacio added four. Bennett and Saccacio each scored three goals.