There was little fanfare or buzz about the Francis Howell North hockey club for most of the 2014-15 season.
The Knights entered the playoffs as a lowly 12 seed after an up and down regular season that went 9-8-4 and were not expected to contend for the Wickenheiser Cup Championship.
After battling past Lutheran South and Timberland in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the playoffs, Howell North completed their season on the edge with a 3-1 win over Fox in the Wickenheiser Cup Championship game at Scottrade Center Tuesday (Mar. 3). The championship was the first ever for the Howell North program.
Howell North overcame deficits both during the regular season and the postseason.
“We were like the Cardinals a couple of years ago when they won the World Series, they were always on edge,” Howell North coach Joel Herr said. “But we found a way to get it done, I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. It’s all about coming together at the right time and these guys pulled it out.”
The Knights success on the ice was driven primarily by super goalie Kavan Johnson, who turned in a lights-out effort between the pipes by stopping 26 of 27 shots.
That effort gave Johnson the games Most Valuable Player award.
“I just knew that once I had the team behind me that I should be great and just keep doing what I’m doing and that I would have the team finishing it off for me,” Johnson said.
Howell North took control of the game with two goals in a 4 minute, 26 second span in the second period.
Adam Dempski put the Knights ahead to stay with a a goal off a 2-1 break with 13:27 left. Brendan Johnston set Dempski up with a sweet pass for the goal.
Mitchell Carlson tacked on an insurance goal, scoring off a rebound with just over nine minutes to go.
Johnson kept Fox’s high-scoring offense from going off the rest of the way with three huge stops in the closing moments.
Fox, which went 7-13-1 in the regular season jumped to a 1-0 lead on a goal by Jordan Bratton just 13 seconds into the second period.
The Warriors struggled to put pucks away after that goal as Johnson was a wall in the net.
“I think we just pushed a little too much, and tried a little too much cute stuff and sometimes you just got to gut it out, put the puck on the net and we just couldn’t do it,” Fox coach Lester Grobe.
The Knights grabbed the momentum at the start of the third period and Johnson made the two-goal lead stand up.
“I jumped on our first two lines, they were sitting back letting the play come to them and not forcing plays,” Herr said. “They started forcing turnovers.”
Fox goalie Christian Sanzottera also turned in a strong night.
But the night belonged to Howell North as the Knights savored their first Wickenheiser Cup title in school history.
“Just to make it to the Wickenheiser Cup is an accomplishment but to win it all is just unreal,” Herr said. “It’s an unreal feeling. These guys are amazing and I’m so proud of them.”