West Chester Rustin made history Saturday afternoon, defeating Franklin Township 2-1 in overtime to capture its fourth straight Pennsylvania Cup title (Class A division).
According to Rustin head coach Nick Russo, no team from eastern Pa. has won four straight Pennsylvania Cups. Several teams from western Pennsylvania have done it, including Meadville (1993-1996) and Bishop McCourt (1994-1997).
Rustin had to really battle for this one. After West Chester East took the Golden Knights to four overtimes in the Flyers Cup final, Rustin fell behind Franklin 1-0 in the first period of the Pennsylvania Cup, held at Robert Morris University Sports Center in Pittsburgh. Franklin lost to the Golden Knights in last year’s state final, 6-0, and was aching for revenge.
Fortunately for Rustin, the Golden Knights’ Brett Turner scored at 14:26 of the second period to tie the game at 1-1, with an assist from Nicholas Ferraro.
“Brett’s goal was a huge lift for us,” said Russo. “We had been outshooting Franklin, but they were a good team, playing good defense. For one of our defensive men [Turner] to jump into the play and score was huge.
“I think we loosened up a little after his goal – it was like a weight off our chests.”
After the second period ended with the score tied 1-1, Russo gave his squad a brief oration in the locker room. It was a talk that sophomore Matt Owens, who scored the game-winner, remembered well.
“Coach Russo compared us to a lion, and told us that we won’t stop until we have it all,” said Owens, a big-game performer who scored a hat trick in the Golden Knights’ 6-0 in last year’s Pennsylvania Cup.
Rustin outshot Franklin for the game, 38-29, but the score still remained 1-1 at the end of regulation. Just before regulation ended, the Golden Knights were hit with a delay of game penalty.
“Going into two minutes of overtime down a man (5-4) is a tough situation,” said Russo. “But our team has a lot of heart, a lot of character, and I think our experience in big games pulled us through those two minutes. When those two minutes were over, I think we all breathed a sigh of relief, and then we started working on the game-winner.”
Just 3:07 into overtime, Owens scored the winning goal, with an assist from Ian Strasinski.
“I could see the [upcoming] goal developing with Owens,” said Russo. “It was like watching a slow-motion movie – once he split the defense, I knew it was over.”
Owens said, “After Ian passed it to me, I beat one defenseman, went to my backhand and knocked it in. When I saw it go in, I was really excited and my first reaction was that I wanted to hug Jason [Grande] – he saved a lot of shots for us in overtime.”
Grande, who saved 62 shots in the four-overtime Flyers Cup final against West Chester East, stopped 28 Franklin shots Saturday.
“It was a great feeling to win this game and get out of Pittsburgh,” said Grande, who pitched a 6-0 shutout in last year’s Pennsylvania Cup final. “We had a lot of new guys step up this year. Winning it for the fourth time is a good feeling – we have a powerhouse of an ice hockey team.”
Grande reflected on the Golden Knights’ penchant for winning in overtime down the post-season stretch: “I think it’s the [heightened] atmosphere of the games, and that we make the simple plays, we play simple hockey. We don’t make [big] mistakes.”
Russo said, “We had excellent leadership this season from guys like [senior co-captain] Tommy Sloan, [senior co-captain] Jason Grande, [senior] Matt Widdis and [junior] Connor Lapps. We’ve got seniors with lots of experience who don’t know what it’s like to lose.”
West Chester Rustin 2, Franklin Township 1
West Chester Rustin 0 1 0 1 — 2
Franklin Township 1 0 0 0 — 1
Goals: WCR: Turner, Owens. FT: Mauro.
Assists: WCR: Ferraro, Strasinski. FT: Huffman, Sliva.
Saves: WCR: Grande 28. FT: Soltesz 36.