By Joe Harris | Special for STLhighschoolsports.com
St. Louis U. High hockey coach Steve Walters got the answer he was looking for when he checked on goaltender Maksim Bely before the Mid-States Club Hockey Challenge Cup championship game. Association.
“He said, ‘Coach, I was born for this,'” Walters said.
Bely backed up his words with action, making 21 saves as he led the Jr. Billikens to a 3-1 victory over De Smet as they won the school’s fourth state championship and first since 2019.
Bely also made individual history by becoming the first United States goaltender to win the Wickenheiser Cup with one team and the Challenge Cup the following year with another.
“I think my two championships ended up going downhill,” Bely said. “I mean, it didn’t really feel authentic to me, I guess, the first year, then this year, I think, since I had the full experience, I think the two really dipped.”
The junior goalkeeper refers to the connection he had with his team.
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Bely led Ladue to the Wickenheiser Cup in 2021, but was drafted into the team through the Mid-States Player Pool because the school he attended, Parkway Central, didn’t have a team. As a result, he didn’t know any of the cheering faces for the Rams in the student section.
But Bely signed up for SLUH last summer and was instantly accepted by his teammates and classmates. The student section of Jr. Billikens made a giant cutout of his face and chanted “Bely! Bély!” after several big stops.
“Just glancing at the crowd during the game whenever I could, I just felt a sense of community and a sense of belonging during the game,” Bely said. “I think it brought out the best in me.”
Bely has done his best all season, going 11-1 with a .929 save percentage for SLUH (21-2-2). He is the Post-Dispatch All-Metro Ice Hockey Player of the Year.
He credits his success to his teammates.
“We just felt comfortable with each other,” Bely said. “It’s just a positive environment.”
Walters said Bely gained the trust of his new teammates early on during summer drills. His competitiveness and his own expectations stood out.
This continued when the matches started counting.
“Max’s confidence basically transfers throughout our team,” Walters said. “They’re going to play with more confidence and understand now that they’re going to have to do their job in the defensive zone, block shots, get the puck out of the zone, then get to the net and put it behind their goaltender. .”
That confidence was key in an early flurry from De Smet in the league game. The Spartans took the first eight shots of the game on goal, but Bely saved every one of them.
His efforts saw his teammates regain their legs and come away with a decisive 1-0 lead after the first period despite leading 10-3 in shooting.
“What it does is it allows us to train the team in the right way, which tells the guys OK, now they’re going to start getting tired, that’s where SLUH takes over, because you look at our second and third period stats, that’s where we’ve beaten everybody all year,” Walter said. “So when Max keeps you in this game, he does all these confidence saves, it puts confidence in the players. It’s like, ‘Max is here. Max won’t let him in. It gives your whole team confidence in front of you and that’s why it wasn’t a shock that when the shots were 10-3, we were ahead by one.
The Jr. Billikens had such faith in Bely that they allowed him to stick to his normal pre-game routine leading up to the championship, including forgoing the team bus ride from SLUH and traveling himself at the rink.
“It’s just that the bus was in danger of getting us stuck in traffic and it just wanted to get to the rink on its time,” Walters said.
It’s the hockey equivalent of a major league baseball team sending the next day’s starting pitcher to their next destination ahead of the team on a road trip getaway day.
“It just gives me a sense of comfort coming into the game,” Bely said. “Obviously when you do things that are familiar to you, it eases your mind into the game.”
To make the experience even more special, Bely was able to share it with his younger brother Andrew, who is a freshman goaltender for SLUH.
“He’s been really supportive of me all season, and I’ve been supportive of him,” Bely said. “We both push ourselves to our limits in training.”
Bely was born in Belarus and his parents emigrated to the United States when he was a baby. He still has family in Belarus, including his grandparents, so he is watching the war in neighboring Ukraine closely.
“Everyone here cares about it, but they’re not really into it,” Bely said. “But for me, it’s a whole different story. I have family over there. There’s a lot of political stuff going on and obviously it’s very horrible what’s going on there right now. And all I hope is that my family stays safe.
So far, he said his family is safe, which has allowed him to focus on hockey.
Bely plans to work on his mental game and hopes to bring SLUH back to another championship run.
“I would also like to bring one home next year and do it,” Bely said. “So it would be a poetic ending.”
2022 All-Metro Ice Hockey First Team
Sam Carosello, Sophomore, CBC
An explosive 5-foot-10 forward, Carosello was the go-to producer for an offense that averaged 4.71 goals per game. He posted 20 goals and 21 assists and had three hat tricks. He had seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) in five playoff games. Carosello was drafted by Cedar Rapids in the sixth round of Phase I of the United States Hockey League Futures Draft.
Alex Fendler, junior, Vianney
A 5-foot-10 forward, Fendler received the Jim Ryan Award at the Missouri Athletic Club at the Jack Buck Awards ceremony in December as the region’s top amateur hockey player. He had 32 points (16 goals, 16 assists), including two hat tricks. He recently signed a contract with the Springfield Jr. Blues of the North American Hockey League.
Charlie Walker, Senior, Priory
The 5-foot-10 forward led the Ravens to the Wickenheiser Cup title. A returning second-team All-Metro selection, Walker had 60 points (31 goals, 29 assists). Always a prolific goalscorer, Walker also embraced the dirty work that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. He scored 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists) in nine playoff games.
Vito Biondo III, senior, De Smet
A 5-foot-10 defender, Biondo was a second All-Metro teammate as a junior. He built on that campaign by excelling in every situation for a team that allowed just 1.77 goals per game. He amassed 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists). Biondo continued his penchant for scoring in big games by scoring the Spartans’ only goal in the Challenge Cup league game.
Mario DiMaggio, senior, SLUH
Leading a deep Jr. Billikens blue line, this 6-foot defenseman was assigned to the opposition’s leading scorers. As team captain, DiMaggio’s direct presence helped SLUH limit teams to just 1.20 goals per game. DiMaggio also had an offensive touch, posting 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists), including three playoff points.
Brady Govero, junior, De Smet
The 6-foot-3 goaltender led the Spartans to the Challenge Cup championship game. Govero was 4-2 with a .949 save percentage in the playoffs, including three shutouts. He stopped all three attempts in a shootout to lead the Spartans past CBC in the semifinals. Overall, he went 7-6-2 with a .913 save percentage.
2022 All-Metro Ice Hockey Second Team
Isaac Cooper, senior, Francis Howell
A 5-foot-11 forward, Cooper was the Vikings’ top offensive option when they moved to the ultra-competitive Municipal Division. Cooper scored 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists).
Jack Kohlmann, second year, Fox
The 6-foot forward has paired a growth spurt with a massive increase in point production from his first season. Kohlmann finished with 44 points (24 goals, 20 assists) in 22 games.
Maxwell Wagener, Senior, Priory
Drafted into the Mid-States roster, he became a staple for the Ravens and won the Wickenheiser Cup MVP award. He finished with 59 points (34 goals, 25 assists) in 23 games.
Thomas LaVigne, senior, Radio-Canada
Part of the LaVigne/Jost family tradition that helped define the caddy program, the 6-foot-3 defenseman and team captain led a unit that allowed just one goal per game.
Griffin Young, senior, Kirkwood
A 6-foot-3 rock at the blue line, Young was one of the Pioneers’ captains in addition to being a top defenseman. He led a defense that allowed just 2.43 goals per game.
Ethan Jourden, senior, Fox
The 5-foot-10 guard was the driving force behind the Warriors’ rise to the Challenge Cup playoffs. He finished with a 10-1-4 record and a .930 save percentage.
2022 All-Metro Ice Hockey Third Team
John Dapron, senior, Vianney
A 6-foot-1 forward, Dapron was a prolific scorer with 25 points (17 goals, 8 assists) in just 18 games. He has three goals and one assist in four playoff games.
Tyler Loughman, senior, De Smet
The 5-foot-11 forward led the Spartans in scoring with 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists). He had three playoff points and a team-record three game-winning goals.
Benjamin Winkelmann, senior, SLUH
The Jr. Billikens’ leading scorer, the 5-foot-9 forward had 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists). He had two goals and six assists in the playoffs, including an empty net that won the championship.
Luke Chase, senior, Marquette
A 6-foot-4 defenseman who played twice in the All-Metro. Chase anchored a stingy blue line and was a key part of the Mustangs’ penalty kill and power play.
Wyatt Sirimaturos, junior, Francis Howell
The 6-foot-1 defenseman excelled on even strength as well as on the penalty kill and power play. Sirimaturos finished with 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists).
Jack Solomon, Junior, Radio-Canada
A 6-foot-1 goalie, Solomon made big saves when needed. He finished with a 12-1-1 record, .946 save percentage and six shutouts.