By Tom Connolly     12/27/2016

‘Catholic Night’ was the theme at the Anaheim Ducks/Ottawa NHL hockey game at the Honda Center on December 11.

Servite, Santa Margarita and St. Catherine’s Academy participated in the festivities and the enthusiasm of the Catholic faith could be felt throughout the arena.

Aside from rivals, Servite and Santa Margarita, squaring off in a Division 3 exhibition immediately following the Ducks game, the event featured four St. Catherine’s Academy cadets presenting the U.S. colors prior to the Ducks game and Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange riding on the Zamboni.

“It’s my first NHL game I’ve ever attended and the first time I ever rode on a Zamboni,” said Vann, who waived to the sellout crowd as he rode Zamboni-shotgun between the second and third period of the Ducks game.

“It’s a great opportunity for these young people to play in front of our Catholic community. It was great fun and the community was involved and it’s a spiritual experience as well.”

It wasn’t the first time Bishop Vann was exposed to professional sports. Two years ago, Vann threw out the first ball at an Angels’ game.

“I practiced for 3 months before that game, so I wouldn’t embarrass myself,” Vann joked.

“I really like baseball and Stan Musial was my favorite. I love being here and participating in events such as this and I think the people appreciate it as well.”

The fans reaction was overwhelming as they enjoyed the action and the fellowship.

“Servite is a lifelong commitment to family and friends,” said Friars-Alum Chris Pokracki. “It’s a gigantic opportunity for these kids to play on the same ice as the professionals.”

Santa Margarita students Emma Civita and Margo Stallings enjoyed the celebration. “It’s really something different for our school and it’s a great opportunity to support our friends,” said Civita, a 15-year-old sophomore.

Prior to the Servite/Santa Margarita game, Bishop Vann led the 500 fans in an opening prayer.

Ryan Lilyengren, communications officer for the Diocese, marketing director Lelani Kroeker and Cynthia Bobruk, executive director of the Orange Catholic Foundation, were among the organizers who worked with the Anaheim Ducks to make the event a success.

“It’s a great way for Catholics to come together and celebrate our faith,” said Bobruk. “The Ducks have done so much to help our schools.”

St. John The Baptist pastor Augustine Puchner also took in the action.

“The kids won’t ever forget this experience,” said Puchner, who grew up playing hockey in Milwaukee. “They’re playing on the same ice as the pros and they’ll find out how tired they’ll get and they’ll appreciate how hard the pros work.”

Hockey is not a CIF-sanctioned sport but its popularity is growing throughout Southern California. Servite and Santa Margarita are part of a 45-team league sponsored by the Anaheim Ducks.

The game also served as a fundraiser for Servite, Santa Margarita and St. Catherine’s Academy. The Ducks held a silent auction throughout the game as fans had the opportunity to bid on autographed sticks and jerseys from Ducks players Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler with all proceeds going to the schools.

“Playing in a NHL venue is such an honor and it’s the closest I’ll ever get to the NHL,” said Servite coach Mike Marshall. “It brings the kid out in me and even though there were some jitters, the kids love seeing the fans in the stands.”

This is the second year that Servite and Santa Margarita had the opportunity to play at the Honda Center.

Eagles forward Jekabs Biesnicks scored three goals and Santa Margarita rallied for four goals in the third period to knock off Servite, 8-5.

Logan Orsini added two goals and Nick Mauthe, Taylor Loh and Daniel Doss each tallied a goal for the Eagles.

Luc Cross scored twice for the Friars and Tucker Massura, George Colaco and Bowen Frabotta each added a goal.

“It’s an amazing feeling, it was the first time I ever stepped on an NHL rink ice,” said Biesnicks, who moved to the U.S. from Latvia in 2015 and lives with a host family. “It was hard at first but I have made a lot of friends and it’s been a great experience.”

Cross said the game was an exhibition but the players still competed.

“It was great feeling to be on the ice representing our school, “said Cross. “It was an exhibition but there were still hits and we still wanted to win.”

“I was proud to be out here for our small school,” said Frabotta. “Hockey is growing all throughout California. The enthusiasm for hockey at our school is picking up each year.”

Santa Margarita Director of Activities Sammer Darwazeh said the event was an invaluable experience for everyone.

“It’s an incredible feeling for both schools to be competing here and bringing together the Catholic community,” Darwazeh said.

Likewise, Santa Margarita coach KC Groon enjoyed the event.

“It’s an honor for the school to able to play here,” said Groon. “I would love to see hockey become a CIF-sanctioned sport like it is in the Midwest and back east.” It helps put us on the map.