An MSG dream come true

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For McClancy's Sandro Pardo, the nerves started on his ride over the Queensborough Bridge. It hit St. Francis Prep forward Mike Begy late the night before. Sean O'Neill from Holy Cross even had a dream about it.

Feb. 13, 2000 is a date that all 44 members of the Catholic High School Hockey League's 15th annual Senior Classic Game will remember for a lifetime: it was the Sunday afternoon they played at Madison Square Garden.

"When I was on the ice I was thinking 'I'm on the same ice as the Rangers,'" O'Neill said. "Wayne Gretzky played on the same ice last year. Mark Messier and all the great ones played on this ice. I looked up and I was just in awe."

"I couldn't believe it," Molloy's Tom Irwin said of the experience of playing at the World's Most Famous Arena. "I still couldn't believe it until I got here today, walking up the stairs to the arena. I'll always remember it."

The Diocese of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre took on the Archdiocese of New York Sunday at 4 p.m. The game took place before the New York Islanders and New York Rangers did battle at 7 p.m.

While it was the 15th installment of the game, it was the first time the league was able to use the ice at Madison Square Garden. Murray Rink in Yonkers was the choice rink for many years. But thanks in part to Christ the King head coach Pat Boller, the league managed to secure Madison Square Garden.

Boller is also the New York Rangers coaching staff assistant and he said the idea of having the game at the Garden actually started with the Rangers marketing department. Boller was approached by Janet Duch, from the marketing department, about the possibility of having some type of high school game on the Garden ice. Boller told CHSHL Chairman Frank Dunn and they agreed to hold the Senior Classic at the Garden.

"I'm hoping we can get a few regular season or playoff games here at the Garden," said Boller, whose Royals took on Bishop Ford at the Garden earlier this year. "We want to have it where it's not just the Senior Classic."

Rangers Assistant Captain Adam Graves, who is one of the most charitable athletes in New York, along with Bauer Equipment Company, donated the game jerseys for the Senior Classic.

"Any time you're a young guy, especially playing hockey, it's not always easy to get the equipment you need," Graves said. "To donate some jerseys was very easy and I hope they can use them for a few years to come."

NYR SKATE, a division of the Madison Square Garden Cheering for Children Foundation, also stepped in to help the league. The organization, which was established in January 1998 to enrich the lives of children in the tri-state area, paid for the lettering on each jersey and gave each player two complimentary tickets to the Rangers game afterward.

NYR SKATE honorary spokesman, Rangers rookie Mike York, was on hand to take pictures with the Game MVP and Player of the Game for each team and watched the last 10 minutes of the game.

"It wasn't too long ago I was in their shoes so I know what it's like," he said. "[The hockey] was pretty good. There was a lot of scoring chances. You tend to see that a lot in all-star games."

The two teams were comprised of two skaters from each of the CHSHL's 21 teams. Each squad also had three goalies, who played a period each. The goaltenders were voted on by league coaches. One of the goalies, Holy Cross' Vic DiRico, was named Game MVP as he made 14 saves in holding the Archdiocese of New York scoreless in the first period. The biggest save came with 3:40 left in the period when it appeared St. Peter's Alan Rigatti had him beat on the backhand, but DiRico, who was sprawled out on the ice, reached back with his glove and pushed the puck away just as it was about to cross the goal line.

"It felt great," said DiRico, a Woodside native. "I can't believe I just did it. In the beginning I was really nervous, I got caught up looking. After my first couple of saves I got into the game and I just took it from there."

The Diocese of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre took a 1-0 lead 3:46 into the second period when Gerard Sica from Bishop Ford poked the puck in from the left of the net. The Xaverian tandem of Louis Montella and Robert Giallombardo assisted on the goal.

Sica scored his second of the game at the 14:42 mark of the second on assists from Giallombardo and Ken Miklas from Kellenberg to put the Diocese of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre up, 2-0. With 24 seconds remaining in the second period, the Diocese of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre went up 3-0 on a one-timer by Montella in the slot. O'Neill and McClancy's Matt Brand assisted on the goal.

Iona Prep's John Porcelli and Lou Guglielmetti from Xavier brought the Archdiocese of New York to within 3-2. Milkas put the puck in the net through a screen on an assist by Ed Bergin from Holy Cross to put the Diocese of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre ahead 4-2.

After Fordham Prep's Jason Borsella made it 4-3, beating Christ the King's Chris Kolyviotis on a breakaway, Reed Lancelot from Christ the King put his team up by two when he scored at 9:54 of the third, assisted by Brand and O'Neill.

The Archdiocese of New York came back to tie the game at 5 at 13:28 on an Anthony Williams goal. The regulation ended tied at 5 and it went into a shootout. William Caputo's backhand goal iced the game for the Archdiocese of New York as they won the game, 8-6.

Despite the loss, the Queens high school standouts said the opportunity to step onto the Garden ice was one they will always cherish.

"I'm a diehard Ranger fan, always will be and to play in this arena is a dream every kid has," said Bergin. "It's amazing."

"This is Madison Square Garden," Begy said. "Every great thing in the world happens here. I loved playing with these guys. I'm sad to go, I don't want to leave."

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