Turning disappointment into glory

St. Rita went with two goalies for the playoffs two seasons ago.

Sean Gerich was the third. He was the one left behind.

Two years have passed since Gerich was made the odd man out for the Mustangs, but it's a memory that remains with him to this day. He may have been able to deal with it if the two other goalies were upperclassmen, but with one being a fellow sophomore and the other a freshman, Gerich took the snubbing hard.

Today, Gerich believes that disappointment is the reason why he's developed into an all-state goalie, shut out Fenwick to help the Mustangs win the Kennedy Cup, stopped 35 shots in the upset of New Trier Green and why St. Rita is playing for the Blackhawk Cup against Loyola Gold on Friday.

"It's what I thought about every day," said Gerich, who is the ESPNChicago.com Prep Athlete of the Week. "I never wanted to feel that again."

It wasn't just a wish to never experience that again. Gerich made sure it didn't. Following his sophomore season, he began taking individual lessons and training more than he ever had before. In time, his ability began catching, and then surpassing, his competition.

This season, he did share net duties with senior Bill McGrenera. The two took turns throughout the season as the team's starter. During the playoffs, though, Gerich began taking his game to another level.

In the opening game of the Kennedy Cup, he had 21 saves in a 3-1 win over Fenwick. In the following game, he made another 20 in a 2-0 win over the Friars to win the cup. His stellar play continued in the opening two rounds of the state playoffs when St. Rita knocked off Naperville Central and Prairie Ridge.

Then there was his performance against New Trier Green in the semifinals on Monday. His 35 saves were impressive in the 4-3 win, but nothing was as grand as the one stop he made during a Trevians 5-on-3 power play during the second period.

"I knew they had a great backdoor play," Gerich said. "They hadn't run it, so I thought was something wrong. Then in the corner of my eye, I saw someone moving behind me. They passed the puck there, and I was able to get pad on it. If they make that, I probably put my head down, and we lose."

St. Rita coach Craig Ferguson hasn't seen many saves as spectacular as that one.

"New Trier almost had its sticks up in the air to celebrate," Ferguson said. "There was no one on their bench that thought he could stop it. There was no one on our bench who thought he could. Everyone was in awe when he did."

It's been that kind of playoff run for Gerich. At every level, a hot goalie can make all the difference for a team. Right now in the state tournament, that's Gerich.

"We'd be stupid not to continue riding the hot hand," Ferguson said. "He'll be in net on Friday, and he deserves to be."

Gerich isn't the most technical goalie. There are plenty of others with better form, but with extraordinary athleticism and great instincts he finds a way to stop most shots. For the season, he's gone 26-3-3 with a 1.77 goals-against average.

Plus, there is one secret to his success.

"When I was a kid, I used to play goalie in the basement with my two brothers," said Gerich, who is considering the Naval Academy or playing for a junior hockey team after graduating. "They used to tell me all I had to do was stop the black thing. That's all I do now. I go out and try and stop the black thing."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at preps@espnchicago.com.