It had all the makings and atmosphere of a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game, to say the least.
ESPNU cameras rolled at St. Anthony’s Cy Donnelly Field. The stands below the press box were filled with people trying to get a glimpse of two teams that will likely combined to send more than 40 players to Division I schools. A pair of top 20 teams had just played as the perfect undercard to set this one up.
Long Island power St. Anthony’s came into the game ranked as the NLF’s No. 1 team. St. John’s (D.C.) was right behind at No. 2. The prevailing pregame logic is that you could flip a coin to pick the winner, depending on how a couple faceoffs bounced or which goalie could come up with that extra save.
Not quite. The Cadets got four goals apiece from seniors Mac Haley (Navy) and Gavin Kelly (Drexel) and five-star junior goalie Caleb Fyock (Crabs / Ohio State) frustrated the Friars by gobbling up 17 saves as St. John’s cruised to an 11-5 win in the GEICO Showcase. It was the second blowout top-five win for the Cadets after they trounced rival Gonzaga (D.C.), then ranked No. 5, 17-6. The loss was the worst for St. Anthony’s since a 13-7 defeat to rival Chaminade (N.Y.) in 2019.
Making a Statement
Brunswick (Conn.) may still have a case to be considered for the top spot, but make no mistake about it. Right now, there’s no one with the Cadets’ résumé, and they made it abundantly clear that they’re the measuring stick for everyone else in 2022.
“I think, rankings-wise, we did make a big statement,” Fyock said. “I think, to ourselves, the whole team now understands that no matter who we play, we can compete and we can beat them no matter what.”
Tough to argue with The Big Tasty, who made 10 of his 17 saves in the back half of the game to prevent any St. Anthony’s comeback attempt. Fyock brings such an impactful and unique combination of size, talent, communication skills and personality to the Cadets’ cage. The NLF’s No. 11 junior exudes cool in goal, and he never once looked fazed despite staring down a ridiculously-potent Friars offense. The future Buckeye was dialed in from the get-go and made the Friars’ strategy of testing him low look dubious at best. Shooting high didn’t do much for St. Anthony’s, either, and sometimes, you just have to tip your cap to an elite goalie.
Always blessed with a massive frame, Fyock looks like he’s worked hard at improving his overall fitness. His footwork is absurdly good for a man of his size, but it’s his clean stickwork and snappy outlets that help separate him. He made tough saves look easy throughout and was quick to get the ball up, out and into teammates’ stick.
Of course, it helps to have so much talent around him. The offense is as diverse and as schematically difficult to stop as any. The attack line of Haley, Kelly and five-star sophomore Ryan Duenkel combined for nine goals and two assists. NLF No. 60 senior Luke Rhoa (Crabs / Syracuse), arguably the best midfield shooter in the class, added a goal and an assist.
The defense in front of Fyock is absurd. Richard Checo (Lehigh) got the scoring started 15 seconds into the game, but that tally paled in comparison to the damage he did on the defensive end. Riley Figueiras (Syracuse) has a case as the most dominant defenseman against high-end competition this season. The next goal he allows in coverage will be the first one this year.
Outside of winning faceoffs, St. John’s was just better at everything on this day than the Friars. It’s a testament to the depth that Wes Speaks has built on Military Road, and it sure doesn’t look like the Cadets are going anywhere. There was plenty of talk from players about focusing on the WCAC championship, but there’s no doubt that they took a minute to enjoy this one.
“We’re a whole unit, it’s not just one player,” Checo said. “I think (we showed that we’re the top team) so, but you never know. You still have to keep getting better, and we’re playing for May 9 for our conference championship.”
Close that out, and it’ll be hard to argue against the Cadets as national champions.
St. John’s – St. Anthony’s Standouts
Richard Checo ’22, defense / LSM, St. John’s / Lehigh
Absolutely phenomenal. As disruptive a player as there is in the country right now, Checo has been flat-out dominant for the Cadets all season along. He kept that up against the Friars, starting the game off with a ground ball at his 40 and running it down for an eight-yard off-stick rip. From there, Checo was everywhere for St. John’s, picking up every ground ball in sight, picking off passes and causing turnovers. He had a particularly impressive caused turnover and ground ball at X. He’s the perfect guy to wreak havoc all over the field, timing up his checks well and being an irritating on-ball presence.
“I thought I played well,” Checo said in the biggest understatement of the day, “but our whole team played well. … We don’t really care about matchups. We’ll have anyone go guard their best player and we’ll just slide to you. We’ll just slide and play team defense. That’s what Coach (Wes) Speaks preaches and that’s what we play.”
Riley Figueiras ’22, defense, St. John’s / Syracuse
The Cadets may not worry too much about matchups, but Figueiras seems to find himself covering opponents’ top scoring options pretty often. He’s covered a wealth of the best attackmen in the country and still has not given up a goal in coverage at 6v6. It doesn’t make sense. Figueiras just blanketed everything in his path, always played with his stick in front of him and forced a lot of low-quality shots from the Friars. He also did a nice job of keeping in constant communication with his teammates. The next huge check he throws might be the first of the year because he’s just so good at matching feet and denying where his matchup wants to go.
Gavin Kelly ’22, attack, St. John’s / Drexel
Both Kelly and Mac Haley (Navy) tore up the Friars for four goals, but it was Kelly’s goals that really helped turn the game into a blowout. The Drexel signee got on the board with a rollback, then he buried a feed from five-star sophomore Ryan Duenkel. His best of the day, though, was probably a high-to-high bomb that came 43 seconds before he officially sealed the game with his fourth of the day. Kelly’s a terrific finisher, and you can’t leave him open anywhere inside of 10 yards.
“The thing about our offense that’s great is we have so many guys that can score,” Kelly said. “If you put a shortie on any of our middies, they’re capable of beating them. They’re capable of beating the poles most of the time. Our attack complements each other very well. I’ve been starting with Mac for the last four years, and Duenkel being put in our offense last year, it’s a lot. We’re just really unselfish. We don’t care about who scores as long as someone puts it in the back of the net.”
Jordan Naso ’22, faceoff midfield, St. Anthony’s / Holy Cross
Naso did all he could to keep the Friars in the game early. The Holy Cross signee won six of the eight first-half faceoffs en route to an 11-for-20 day against one of the top juniors in the country. He was able to stay low in his stance and use his strength to wriggle the ball free against NLF No. 34 ’23 Jackie Weller (Mad Lax / Michigan), and he showed a high compete on ground balls.
Will Snyder ’22, goalie, St. Anthony’s / LI Express / Fairfield
The game would have been out of hand in the first half if not for Snyder’s outstanding performance. He made seven stops in the first half as part of a 13-stop day, but it felt like 17 with how impressive some of them were. Snyder came up with a couple of in-tight saves, and yet again showed that beating the 6-5 stopper low is tougher than you’d imagine. He had terrific low stops on the likes of Kelly and Checo, and the Cadets weren’t able to really put the game away until late, when their repeated extensive offensive possessions wore the Friars down.
St. John’s 11, St. Anthony’s 5
St. John’s 2 3 2 4 — 11
St. Anthony’s 0 1 2 2 — 5
Mac Haley ’22 (Navy) 4 goals
Gavin Kelly ’22 (Drexel) 4 goals, 1 assist
Luke Rhoa ’22 (NLF No. 60 ’22 / Crabs / Syracuse) 1 goal, 1 assist
Ryan Duenkel ’24 (Five-star ’24) 1 goal, 1 assist
Richard Checo ’22 (Lehigh) 1 goal
Jackie Weller ’23 (NLF No. 34 ’23 / MadLax / Michigan) 9-for-20 faceoffs
Caleb Fyock ’23 (NLF No. 11 ’23 / Crabs / Ohio State) 17 saves
Owen Duffy ’23 (NLF No. 3 ’23 / Team 91 LI / North Carolina) 1 goal
Michael Leo ’22 (Team 91 LI / Syracuse) 1 goal
Jackson Greene ’23 (NLF No. 72 ’23 / Team 91 LI / Harvard) 1 goal
Michael Finnerty ’23 (LI Express / UMass) 1 goal
Anderson Eads ’22 1 goal
Will Snyder ’22 (LI Express / Fairfield) 13 saves
Jordan Naso ’22 (Holy Cross) 11-for-20 faceoffs