During the 2018-19 season, Servite High School finished the season with just two wins.
Fast forward to the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, and the Friars entered the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League (ADHSHL) tournament as the No. 9 seed, but knocked off the No. 6, No. 3, No. 2 and No. 1 seeds to become the lowest seed in league history to take home the Commissioner’s Cup championship.
“It’s hard to put into words what this means to me,” said Servite senior captain Sean Oliu after the Friars blanked the Capistrano Coyotes 2-0 on Feb. 22 at Great Park Ice. “I’ve been playing this game since I was four years old. Playing alongside my teammates who have worked so hard to get to this point, some of us six years in the making, has been truly a blessing. Representing our school and faith on and off the ice has been a dream come true.
“Thank you to all my coaches and teammates for trusting me to captain this team. It’s been an honor. This is a brotherhood.”
Cyprien Peacock and Dean Praet scored for the Friars and Aiden Maltby earned the shutout in goal.
The Friars topped Carlsbad 3-1, Orange Lutheran 5-1 and Villa Park 3-1 to earn a spot in the championship game.
After the sluggish 2018-19 campaign, the Friars were planning for a reboot and renewed commitment to bringing the program back to respectability in 2019-20. The only positive going forward was the youth of the team having lost only one senior player from last year.
Servite head coach Mike Marshall and assistant coach Matthew Northgrave, along with a dedicated group of parents, agreed to do three things to start the new season: field two teams (varsity and junior varsity) in the Spring Select League, commit to playing more travel tournaments, and bring in some additional players to complement the Servite hockey culture.
Five new players – two freshmen and three Anaheim Jr. Ducks club players – were added to the roster.
Then the roller coaster started.
At the end of the second game of the season, Maltby seriously strained his hip and had to be carried off ice. Servite turned to backup Zakary Langford to carry the load in goal over the next two months while Maltby was recovering.
October and November were critical months for the Friars to go against the top Division III teams and Servite didn’t measure up at all. The coaches were focused on getting steady player improvement by emphasizing intangibles, teamwork and leadership. To close the talent gap with other teams, the coaches set up a morning weight training program that helped to improve team skating ability and endurance.
In the local ADHSHL Thanksgiving Invitational, Servite was stuck with an impossible draw against Division II-level teams, and the results were brutal and reminiscent of the 2018-19 season.
December saw better results and tighter games, including a first-place win at the Crabtown Showdown tournament in Maryland – a major turning point in the season and confidence booster for the players.
After the championship win, which fell on the 40th anniversary of the United States defeating the Soviet Union in the “Miracle On Ice” at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., Marshall said all the pieces fell into place.
“We set a goal to play 40 games,” Marshall said. “It was our 40th game. It’s the 40th anniversary of the Miracle game. The ninth seed finishes the playoffs as No. 1. They asked me about our record and how we pulled it off, and I told them straight. Everyone’s record is 0-0 to start the playoffs and ‘we before me.’
“Formation teaches primacy of faith, mastery of self, necessity of the others and centrality of Christ. I believe they lived it.”
— Russ Rieth