West Goshen Twp. >> West Chester Rustin fans chanted “We want East,” following their semifinal win over Hershey. West Chester East fans, a little more than an hour later, belted out “We want Rustin,” during their own semifinal against Strath Haven. Both schools will get their wish, thanks to the No. 2 Vikings’ 5-3 victory against the No. 6 Panthers.
Up one with less than a minute to play, Dylan McLaughlin picked up a loose puck at his defensive blue line and had the length of the rink with an empty net in front of him to seal a spot in the Flyers Cup A Championship. The Golden Knights were on his mind.
“I started thinking about next game pretty fast,” McLaughlin said. “Tensions are going to be high.”
— Pete Bannan (@PeteBannan) March 13, 2018
There was relief and jubilation in the East celebration following McLaughlin’s goal, his second of the night. Part of it was the Vikings’ next opponent. A lot of was their opponent Monday. East fans started the chants, and Haven’s players heard them.
“It gives us more motivation,” said Panthers defenseman Blayden Reid. “To hear fans talking about the next game pumps you up.”
Meanwhile, Vikings coach Eric Wolf struggled to keep his players’ thoughts away from a certain rival.
“With difficulty,” he said. “It’s hard when you already know who’s through. It’s hard on the kids, especially after last year.”
Rustin defeated East in four overtimes in 2017 to collect a fourth consecutive Flyers Cup. Those types of losses don’t go away. And with a 3-1 lead after two and a 25-13 advantage in shots on goal against Strath Haven, the Vikings may allowed a few glances to Wednesday.
That slight lapse allowed the Panthers to pounce. With the help of an ice cut, Haven regrouped to dominate the third period. Reid buried a shot off the post to cut the lead to 3-2 for his second of the night. When Sean Heard restored the hosts’ two-goal lead, the Panthers answered again. Mike Irey turned a fired a high wrist shot that deflected off a Vikings’ stick and into the net–4-3.
What followed was a frantic close that saw Strath Haven get three to four high quality chances at an equalizer. Liam Carney just missed. So too did Ryan Spanier.
On the other side, East netminder Joey Galitski turned everything away. He made three saves in the first period. He made 11 in third.
“He was huge,” said McLaughlin. “Joey kind of stand on his head there.”
Now, comes the challenging part: the wait.
“After last year, I’ll be pretty anxious for the next two days,” said McLaughlin. “It’s going to be intense.”
The Vikings can be accused of thinking ahead to Rustin, who they’ll face off with at 6:30 p.m. at Ice Line on Wednesday, but they didn’t over look the Panthers by any means. Perhaps spurred on by the Knights’ effort, East fired 16 shots on Lukas Bernaus in the first period. He was outstanding, especially on a penalty kill where he made three saves in quick succession. McLaughlin was on the wrong side of a few of them.
“They’re a talented team,” said Bernaus. “It was just like what I prepared for.”
“It helps us a lot,” said Reid of his goaltender’s play. “We play four defensemen, so it’s good to know he has our back.”
McLaughlin finally solved Bernaus 37 seconds into the second period when he poked home rebound. Nick Donnelly followed with a one-timer from the slot to make it 2-0. When Nick Castura beat Bernaus high glove for 3-0, the chants kicked up.
Then again, so did Strath Haven. Reid scored on the power play to close the frame and put everyone’s dream rematch in doubt.
But the Panthers came up just short. With a loaded junior class, including Reid and Bernaus, they’ll use the narrow defeat as a learning experience.
“It sucks to lose, but next year is it,” said Bernaus. “Everyone will be a year older.”
As for East, the Vikings get what they wanted: If not a chance to rewrite a history, then one to write their own.
West Chester Rustin 6, Hershey 2 >> West Chester Rustin coach Nick Russo hasn’t shaved since the Eagles started the playoffs. He hasn’t taken down his Christmas Tree either. You wouldn’t think the Golden Knights would need superstition during the midst of four consecutive Flyers Cup A championships, but there’s Russo, standing on the bench, looking very much like Santa Clause with his full white beard.
It’s working. Well, everything is still working for Rustin in the Flyers Cup. The No. 1 Knights defeated No. 5 Hershey, 6-2, in the first semifinal at Ice Line. Matt Owens scored a hat trick, while Ian Strasinski added a pair of goals.
“We just want to keep it coming and keep it going,” said Owens of the title streak. “Anything less than a Flyers Cup is not enough.”
The players know it, too, so much so that Russo barely mentions it.
“They don’t want to end the streak,” said Russo. “They’ve got a lot of weight on them. They don’t need more from me.”
Instead, Rustin relies on a strong alumni network full of champions. The ex-Knights share their wisdom with the younger players with the hopes that the current iteration will maintain the tradition when the time comes.
With that kind of standard, it’s no wonder Rustin came out and outshot a somewhat unfamiliar Trojans opponent, 16-6, in the first period. But the visitors’ physicality gave the Knights fits, too. Rustin didn’t get too many quality looks, until Owens took matters into his own hands. He collected the puck behind his own net with less than a minute to play in the period and went coast to coast for the opening goal.
That was followed by a somewhat anxious start to the second. If you’re going to end the Rustin dynasty, you better be good, and you better have a memorable name. Sabatino Iannarello certainly fit both categories. He created three or four chances in the first period, before finding the back of the net in the second. Iannarello scooped in a shot at the doorstep to tie the game at one. He then had a shorthanded breakaway opportunity to make it 2-2, beating Joel Keller to the five hole, only to see the puck slide achingly wide. That came after Owens’ second goal, a shorty, and just moments before Strasinski fired in from the point.
Hershey tallied again to start the third but drew no closer. Strasinski answered, Owens added his third and Nick Ferraro sealed it. Russo’s beard stays; the Christmas Tree remains, and the dynasty goes on, at least for one more night.
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