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York Repeats As JV State Champions, Beating Evanston 5-2

By Ross Forman, 03/21/24, 6:15PM CDT


Three-goal first period carries Dukes with game-winning goal from Andrew Pettorelli

York freshman Keaton Nix scored :28 seconds into the 2024 Illinois High School Hockey JV State Championship Game, played March 9 in Bensenville, as the Dukes rolled to a 5-2 win over Evanston, marking York’s second consecutive state championship and third JV title in club history.

The Dukes have played in the JV State Championship Game three consecutive seasons, losing to GBN in 2022 and beating Glenbard in 2023.

Nix’ goal, on the first shift of the game and assisted by Andrew Pettorelli, “took away a lot of nerves and really gave us the chance to play our game, the way we played all year,” said York JV head coach Brian Finnerty. “That goal freed us up, so to speak. It gave us momentum that we carried throughout the game.

“Winning state in back-to-back years is a great accomplishment for our organization. They got it done when it mattered. The team was ready, prepared to play at Bensenville (for state).”

Nix was back on the scoresheet about eight minutes later, helping on Francesco Sanfilippo’s goal, along with Mitch Fafinski, on the powerplay. And it was 3-0 with 2:13 remaining in the first period off a Pettorelli goal, assisted by Anthony Pierotti, which proved to be the game-winner.

“We knew we had to manage and defend well against their top three forwards, which is a very skilled top line. We knew special teams would be key, too,” Finnerty said. “The start we had, leading 3-0 about 10 minutes into the game, really took a lot of pressure off us. That allowed us to play our game.”

Kieran Blackmore broke York goalie Alex Pastircak with 1:15 remaining in the first period as the score was 3-1 after one.

“We started slow; the kids were nervous,” said Evanston JV head coach Del Morris. “With only 15 players and 2 goalies, the guys were kind of run down and ragged. Still, they played hard (in the finals). York had three powerplay goals; that hurt us, but it was a learning experience for us.”

Especially for the 2024-25 Evanston program.

 “For the future, (the state final) really lights a fire for everyone in the organization, including area seventh and eighth-grade students who attended a lot of the team’s games this season,” Morris said.

Pettorelli scored his second goal of the game at 14:17 of the second period, assisted by Mitch Fafinski and Nix.

John Maffia made it 5-1 with :11 remaining in the second, assisted by Kenneth Gallwas and Joseph Gallwas.

“They really came together as a team this season,” Morris said. “It was a bunch of highly skilled kids who were very unselfish; that’s what helped us advance to the finals, play the way we did.

“I know they were super excited to reach the finals,” a first for the program since 1978.

“They really dedicated themselves to the hockey season. It was a tough go in the finals, but overall, a very good experience for everyone.”

Lucian Taylor scored the lone third-period goal, making it 5-2, assisted by Santiago Castro.

“Lucian is so slippery, so gritty. When the other team has the puck, he is so relentless at getting it back,” Morris said. “One thing I love about him is, if he took 10 shots in a game, every one of them would be in a different placement. He’d shoot low corner, upper corner, five-hole, literally everywhere. He finds opportunities and makes the most out of them.”

Taylor, who plays center and wing, led the JV Champions League of the IHSHL North-Central Division with 26 goals and 10 assists in 22 games. His 36 league points were 8 more than Jake Harvey (PREP), who finished second in league scoring.

The Wildkits went 19-0-3 in the regular season, then defeated PREP 4-2 in the North-Central playoff finals.

“We had a mantra this season that every team wants to knock us off that top spot; everyone wanted to give us our first loss. So, the kids knew we had to give it our all every game, and they did,” Morris said.

“We had a really good group of kids, especially the freshman class; they brought the tone, energy and effort level all season.”

But on the final game of the JV season, it was the Dukes who shined brightest, as York outscored its five state tournament foes 19-3.

“Nix played well, as did Drew Pettorelli,” Finnerty said. “We relied on Sean O’Leary and Anthony Pierotti to really shut down their first line.

“As the game went on, we just rolled our lines.”

The Dukes outshot the Wildkits 29-14. York goalie Alex Pastircak seemed calm and collected all night, Finnerty said.

York went 21-2-3 in the SHL regular season, finishing second behind Glenbrook North.

The Spartans also bested the Dukes 3-2 in the SHL Playoff Championship game.

“Did I imagine we’d win the state title? No. Did I think we certainly would have the opportunity to play for the title? Yes,” Finnerty said. “We challenged our group a lot this year, including games against some varsity 2 teams – and I think that’s what prepared them for the stretch at the end of the season.”

Plus, York’s January trip to play games in Minnesota, primarily playing against teams filled with upperclassmen, was a turning point, Finnerty said. “It really prepared us for how we need to play in March.”

York will field an AHL team next season and Finnerty likely will coach that club.

“We have high expectations for next year, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work, from everyone in the program … and it starts in the off-season,” Finnerty said.

Finnerty, 37, has been the JV head coach for five seasons. He has been coaching for 17 years.

“The group got it done when it mattered the most,” he said. “We just want to remain on this upward trajectory. We want to be playing for state championships year in and year out.”