ASTON >> Springfield’s Joe Cavaliere emerged from a victorious locker room with an ice bag on his arm. How many more he would need, he didn’t say. One can assume it’s quite a few, this after a second overtime game in two nights and shift after shift pestering the other team’s best players.
But if one player could end the abuse—given and received—it was the one who made his presence known every time out on the ice, the one who wore a “Man Up” shirt underneath his equipment. A little over two minutes into the second overtime in Thursday night’s Central League Championship against Strath Haven, Cavaliere picked the defenseman’s pocket, dragged the puck to the front of the net and slid a title-winning goal between Lukas Bernaus’ legs. Most overtime winners are ugly. This was anything but.
“I don’t know, the guy was playing with the puck and I just took it,” said Cavaliere. “I got to end it some time or else we’re going to lose. I was running out of gas.”
The goal gave the Cougars a 2-1 win and their first league title since 2014, a drought for what opposing coach Matt Chandik called “the epitome of a dynasty in Delaware County hockey.”
“For me, personally, my brother (Steve) won it as a junior,” said Cavaliere. “It just feels like it was my turn. It felt great.”
There were accolades to go around for Springfield, which endured a 7-6-5 regular season. James Spence, co-captain with Cavaliere, blocked shot after shot and provided a steadying presence on the Cougars blue line once again. Kevin Brown, for the second straight night, forced overtime with a goal from the off wing, this one coming in the second period. And Calin Losacco, the best goalie in the league, came up with 31 saves, none bigger than a breakaway stop in the first overtime—the Panthers’ Ryan Spanier walked in alone and tested Losacco’s glove to no avail.
“I knew I had no choice but to save it,” said Losacco. “I wasn’t going to let it in. We were going to win.”
But no one was bigger than Cavaliere. He drew a penalty and took every slash, cross check and hit Strath Haven was willing to offer. He dished a few of his own. When it mattered most, he made the clinching play with the last bit of energy he had left.
“It’s all him. Joey Cavaliere is a warrior,” said Springfield coach Phil Eastman. “He played hard all night. All over the ice. He’s a warrior.”
Cavaliere established a tone. His teammates followed.
“I just think we all play as a team,” said Cavaliere. “I’m teaching the young kids it doesn’t matter who’s the most skilled. As long as we work hard we’ll win.”
The Panthers had other ideas early on. With the Cougars visibly fatigued, even in the first period, Haven sent out a heavy dose of Ryan Lowe and Mike Irey, the two horses up front. The move paid off when Lowe fired a hard wrist shot off Losacco’s shoulder and in for a 1-0 lead. It was a save Losacco usually makes. No matter. He made the rest.
Behind Cavaliere, Springfield made a push to take back the game. The pay off came when Brown converted from the right circle to beat Bernaus high
blocker—the same shot from the night before. That goal shifted the balance in the contest. After a frantic second frame where the teams combined for 23 shots, the Cougars dominated the third. They threw everything they had at Bernaus. Each time, he came up with the stops—he stoned Aidan Smith on the backhand at the 10-minute mark; he denied Cavaliere two or three times; He gloved a breakaway from Geno Romolini. Bernaus totaled 47 saves in the contest—29 of them came in the third period and overtimes.
“In the past five or six games, you’ve watched the maturation of the Central League’s next elite goalie,” boasted Chandik. “He’s been a game-saver. He’s made so many big saves. The only reason we were in it that long was because of Lukas.”
His team needed it, too. Midway through the third period, Lowe broke his skate blade. He watched in agony from the bench as someone rushed to the
pro shop to buy a new pair. It was during this stretch that Bernaus was at his best. Lowe laced up in time to fire one last shot on Losacco in regulation. Spanier had a whack afterward with less than 10 seconds to play. Haven (10-8-3) would get no closer.
But the Panthers will be back. Bernaus is just a sophomore as are defensemen Trevor Lowe and Blayden Reid and forward Irey, who emerged as the next big threat in the Central. This was just the beginning.
“Nobody expected us to beat Haverford,” said Chandik. “No one expected us to beat Haverford and Penncrest. Nobody would have expected a double OT finish.”
As for Springfield, the Cougars (10-6-5) have a collection of these trophies, but this one ranks among the most difficult. They, too, have been doubted all season and again when they went down early Thursday.
“We were facing a hot goalie, there’s no doubt about it,” said Cavaliere. “But we have Calin, and we know we have a hot goalie too. We just kept going to work.”