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The memory still burns brightly and continues to inspire the Calvert Hall ice hockey team long after last winter's thrilling championship game.

The memory still burns brightly and continues to inspire the Calvert Hall ice hockey team long after last winter's thrilling championship game.

That's when the Cardinals overcame a two-goal deficit against Archbishop Spalding to capture the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title in February.

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That achievement has raised expectations for this season.

"The way we won the MIAA last year with a goal late in the game," Calvert Hall coach Ryan Woodward said about then-junior Brennan O'Brien's game-winner that broke a 2-2 deadlock with just 21 seconds remaining in regulation. "It was a really unbelievable experience. The guys to this day still talk about it and are still riding the momentum from that and using the confidence they gained from that game."

Calvert Hall is eager to repeat as A Conference champions — something the Cardinals haven't done since 2009 —  but they also have their eye on a bigger prize.

That would be to claim the elusive mid-Athletic Prep Hockey League championship as well.

Calvert Hall last wore that crown seven years ago before falling in the final for three consecutive years (2013-2015).

"The toughest part about that league is that it is so deep," Woodward said. "It's a 13- team league with the best teams from Maryland, Washington DC, Montgomery County and (Northern) Virginia. We really want to win that MAPHL championship. They know how hard it is to get there and they know we have as good a shot as anybody to win it."

Woodward said opponents are treating his Cardinals like a championship-caliber team and that he welcomes that challenge.

"Teams know we had a good year last year and that we are poised for another good year," the coach explained. "So every time we step on the ice, we get the other team's best shot. It's a role we relish and really like. We know we have really show up to play because every team is gunning for us."

That's one of the reasons Woodward decided to emphasize more of a defensive style in his third season as head coach.

The defense of senior Justin Brown and juniors Nick Schiavone, Nick Ehrenreich, Mitchell Bozhko and Evan Fitzgerald are the team's strong suit and they protect senior goalie Matthew Schaab well.

The Cardinals have given up only 15 goals in nine games so far this season and have fashioned a 5-3-1 record.

"We are built from the back forward," Woodward said. "High school hockey for most teams is who can fill up the net the most. What's exciting is that we are built on a really strong defense and we have an identity that is carrying us forward."

Scoring, though, hasn't been much of an issue.

Seniors O'Brien (7 goals, 4 assists) and Ryan Camille (4, 2) sophomore Pierce Coffman (3, 4) and junior Coby Smith (4,4) rank among the team's leading scorers.

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Woodward is especially impressed with the 6-foot-2, 210-pound O'Brien, who led the Cardinals in scoring last year with 16 goals and 11 assists.

He plays on a line with Coffman and Chris Carson.

"He is definitely one of the better forwards in the state," Woodward said of O'Brien. "He brings a real edge to his game. He is a kid who never quits and wants to be denied. He is a very vocal kid on and off the ice. It's easy for the guys to follow a player like him."

Camille said Calvert Hall has a reputation a "high-scoring team" the past few years, but he knows more of an emphasis on defense is benefiting the Cardinals.

"We brought everybody back from last year's defense, and Matt Schaab is keeping us in every game," Camille said.

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