Nobody in the St. Ignatius locker room on Sunday woke up thinking they’d see one of the rarest plays in hockey that night.
The Wolfpack had just tied rival St. Viator the night before. That game was a rematch between the two teams that had met in the league championship series last season.
The battle against Benet on Sunday was a big tilt between the top-ranked Wolfpack and the second place Redwings. It also screamed of a trap game, one that St. Ignatius might underestimate after the 1-1 scrum the night before.
Wolfpack head coach Matt Smith knew the St. Viator game was still fresh for his team.
“That’s the team that knocked us out of the Kennedy Cup and won the championship,” Smith said. “It was a good experience for our guys to go into a hostile environment, kind of battle through some adversity.”
For parts of the night, it felt that way. Benet raced out to a quick 1-0 lead and held three separate one goal leads throughout the night. St. Ignatius clawed back every time, eventually tying the game at 4 to send the battle to overtime.
The seeds were sown for something rare and extraordinary to happen.
A hat trick isn’t common in high school hockey, but it isn’t rare with blowout games occurring often enough. A hat trick with a game winning goal is special, even more unique if it’s in overtime.
The rarest achievement of all, though, is a buzzer beater goal. A buzzer beater to complete a hat trick and win the game in overtime? That doesn’t happen.
It did on Sunday.
A quick look at the stat sheet would show two goals for Patrick Doyle, the leading scorer for St. Ignatius. Games against the Redwings were special for Doyle, the son of a Benet alum with several Benet relatives.
It was in overtime where Doyle did something few have ever seen.
“The puck went into the right hands,” Smith said.
High school hockey rules in Illinois specify 4-on-4 action in overtime for five minutes. No score, no winner. The way coaches talk about it, a tie might as well be a loss, too.
St. Ignatius hadn’t gone winless over an entire week all season, and the tie the night before wasn’t even a moral victory. Smith mentioned that a winless weekend wasn’t part of the Wolfpack schedule for at least the last two years, which explains the team’s strategy in the final minute of overtime.
Doyle was sent onto to the ice as the Wolfpack geared up for a final assault at a win, 60 seconds hanging ominously in white lights on the scoreboard. Assistant coach Nicholas Ustaski sent out two other forwards with Doyle, leaving a sole defenseman behind them.
It was a risky tactic that almost resulted in a goal for Benet. Instead, it began a series of events that led to a game winning goal for St. Ignatius.
“That was a small little thing that may have created a little bit more of an offensive mind to the final minute,” Smith said. “It’s easy to say now, but in retrospect it could’ve gone the other way.”
Only 10 seconds showed on the clock when Doyle and forward Dominic Bertucci were behind the puck, chasing the play.
A Benet turnover in the middle of the St. Ignatius zone changed the entire game, a tipped pass sending the puck to Bertucci’s stick.
“I’m not the fastest player on the ice,” Bertucci said. “I look up, I see there’s five seconds left on the clock.”
Bertucci gathered the puck, getting to his own blue line before shoveling it ahead to Doyle.
“I gave it right up to him and then just watched everything unfold,” Bertucci said.
Four seconds remained on the clock when Doyle gathered the puck at center ice.
“I didn’t think I was getting anywhere near the net,” Doyle said. “If [Bertucci] doesn’t get it up at that exact time, I probably wouldn't get there in time.”
The bench tensed up, eyes between the clock and the puck. Mouths were open in shock and excitement, while some joined senior Marcus Mathurin in shouting at Doyle.
“We were all standing up like ‘oh my god, this could happen,’” Mathurin said. “I’ve never been a part of a buzzer beater like that.”
Three seconds were left when Doyle entered the Benet zone. Alexander Grzbek, the Redwings goaltender, had already made 44 saves on 48 shots. Everyone waited and watched to see if he would make one more. Doyle couldn’t afford to wait.
“I didn’t think I was going to have time to score,” Doyle said.
The entire rink thought a shot was coming. So did Grzbek, who had skated far out of his crease to challenge any chance from Doyle as the clock ticked down.
With two seconds left, Doyle faked that shot that everyone expected. Grzbek dropped to his knees, pads splayed out in anticipation.
As the clock ticked down to one final second, Doyle slid the puck to his backhand, Grzbek falling down in desperation behind him.
The puck slid over the line as the horn rang out, both events signaling the end of overtime and an incredibly rare achievement for Doyle, who wasn’t sure if he had scored in time.
“I looked right to the ref,” Doyle said. “I was worried at first, but I saw him point at the goal.”
No hats rained down as shocked fans tried to understand what they just witnessed.