by Jody Kessler
Down 2-0 for the second straight game, La Salle willed itself to victory Monday night in the Flyers Cup final.
Malvern Prep played them extremely tough for the first 30 minutes, building a 2-0 lead through the first two periods. La Salle, however, was able to rally back and force an overtime Nick Master finshed the Friars off just 1:12 into the sudden-death overtime, on a shot from the side that he was just trying to get on net with no real intention of scoring. It bounced off Friar netminder Ryan Polischuk and into goal, setting off a wild celebration.
“It was pure excitement. I don’t know how to explain it. I was just so happy,” Master said.
The win gives La Salle a berth in the state championship game against the winner of the Penguins Cup. Freshman Nick Desimone played excellent goal. C.J. Dunton and Matt Williams got the other goals for La Salle, who won the Flyers Cup for the third time in four years.
“Malvern played a great game,” said Explorer coach Wally Muehlbronner. “ It took us a little bit of time to start making some good plays. I think once we got that first goal, that was the added confidence we needed. Any game like this they’re going to be tight a little bit, but in the third period we completely outplayed them. We had to lay everything on the line. We had to go hard.”
In the first period, each team had some chances for goals but none were scored. Williams and Neil Laessig had a 2-on-1 that they could not convert. Malvern had long possessions in the Explorer’s zone but did not score. La Salle went on the power play with 1:58 left in the period, but Malvern killed the penalty and went in the locker room with no score.
The second period saw the action pick up a notch. Ryan Walters took a big shot for LaSalle that Polischuk had to save. Then at 5:38 Malvern got its first goal. Nick Popoff turned the puck over for La Salle, and Ryan Kavanuagh was there to collect and score. John Schivito assisted on the play. Less than a minute later they added another, capitalizing on weak defense. This time Zachary Olah was the beneficiary at 4:26. La Salle had a chance to get back in the game when they went on the power play twenty seconds later. Popoff got off a good shot and Laessig hit post, but they could not convert and the period ended with Malvern up 2-0.
Any question whether La Salle would get back in the game was answered just 41 seconds into the third period when Dunton got his goal. Malvern had trouble clearing the puck, and he scored on an assist from Jason Lombardi. The next goal was disputed. Williams put it in, but the goal was dislodged. It appeared that the goal was moved before the puck went in, which would be a no-goal, but the referees could not review it and the goal stood.
“That goal I have a hard time with it,” said Malvern coach Steve Mackell. “We can’t complain about that. I thought we did a good job of keeping our composure on the bench.”
It came at 11:44. The score remained that way for the rest of the period. Malvern had a power-play at 11:15. La Salle killed it and then had some good chances, including Master getting a shot off after a rebound from a Sean Orlando shot. But Polischuk was up to the challenge, as he was for 27 other shots during regulation. His counterpart made 21 saves.
It wasn’t long before Master got another chance. He was by the boards in line with the goal, chucked the puck on net in hopes there would be a rebound, and one of the players in front could do something with it. Luckily for La Salle it deflected off Polischuk and in the goal for the game-winner.
“I was just trying to get the puck in front of the net, said Master, who was named tournament MVP. “It just went in. We played very well in the third period. We got off to a slow start but we really picked it up.”
“It felt great going down 2-0. I knew we had such a great team and I knew we could come back,” said DeSimone, grinning ear to ear. “We showed who we are, we showed our character and now we have to go to states and finish up there.”
“Believe in yourself, we get the first goal there’s no stopping us,” said Muehlbronner. About winning the championship he said, “That was our goal from the beginning was to advance to the state final, represent the east well and I think we’ll do that. It’s a great accomplishment for them, there’s a lot of young kids in there, there’s six seniors and it’s a very deserving group.”
“This one hurts,” said Malvern’s Coach Mackell, “I thought we played as close to a perfect game in the first two periods. Their goalie was outstanding tonight. We knew La Salle had more in the tank. They came out with everything they had. That goal they scored in overtime was a fluke goal. I feel so bad for our seniors. La Salle did a great job, hats off to them. They were the best team in the league all year. We tried to chop them down but couldn’t.”
The state championship will be held at Ice line Quad Rinks in West Chester on March 26.