WEST GOSHEN >> With each passing second, Conestoga crept closer to its first Flyers Cup 2A finals appearance since 2008, but it slipped away after the Pioneers let a Fox in the hen house.
Senior Alex Fox scored less than four minutes into overtime to lift second-seeded Downingtown East past the No. 3 Pioneers, 2-1, to earn a berth in the final and a chance to defend its title. In fact, the Cougars will be making their fourth straight trip to the title game.
They will face top-seeded Central Bucks South, a 7-2 winner over No. 5 Council Rock South, in the championship on Thursday at Hatfield.
“We have to make the mandatory AA trip up north,” said Downingtown East coach Dave Hendricks.
East captured its second straight Flyers Cup game in an extra session, but the two games were much different. They tied Downingtown West in the final 11 seconds, in a game that had as many third-period goals as in the entire game Tuesday.
“We haven’t lost in OT yet, so I wasn’t too worried,” said Fox.
Conestoga was clinging to a 1-0 lead after two periods, playing a strong game in its own end based on forcing East to the outside, not allowing many quality scoring chances in close. That strategy was still paying dividends even though the Cougars were beginning to enjoy a decisive territorial advantage while the shots began to pile up on goalie Malcolm Roeder.
East found the tying goal as they put pressure on in the ’Stoga end. The puck found its way to defenseman Luca Pisani at the left point, his initial shot was stopped by Roeder, but Jack Barton got past his checker in front of the net and poked the rebound into the open net for the equalizer with 3:57 left.
The Cougars came within inches of tying the game earlier in the period as a shot by Eric Stankiewicz beat Roeder, but clanged off the crossbar and dropped straight down before being cleared off the line and called no goal by the referee.
“Honestly, it happened so fast, I didn’t see what happened,” said Roeder. “I sure am happy my defense was there to pull it off the goal line.”
Downingtown East notched the first four shots in OT, with the last one sending their players into ecstasy. Justin Cohn found Fox open about 10 feet in front of the net. Fox then fired a wrister that beat Roeder and allowed the Cougars to come one step closer to another state title game berth.
“My linemate (Justin) Cohn came down in the corner. I’ve been telling him all game that I’ve been open in the slot. I called for it, he passed it and I had a clear upper left shot,” said Fox. “Stoked to go to the final.”
According to Roeder, Fox took advantage of a slight mistake in positioning.
“I was off my angle a little. Kudos to the shooter. He saw I was off my angle a little and was good enough to pick that spot,” he said. “Sadly, it had to end in overtime, but it was a great game.”
Following a scoreless first period, Conestoga, which was playing without two of its top offensive players, broke through toward the end of the stanza. Frank Konopasek pounced on a loose puck in the East end and snapped off a shot that glanced off the glove of goalie Matt Shandler and skipped into the net.
The Pioneers made that lead stand up by frustrating the Cougars. They had the game’s only power play with two minutes left in the second, but Conestoga ended up with the only shot.
“Losing is never fun, but for our boys to play that hard and to play within our system. We knew we will have our hands full,” said Conestoga coach Mike Graves. “We played the best we could.”
The Pioneers still had a very productive with a Central League title to go along with the trip to the Flyers Cup semifinals.
“I thought it was a great season with a great group of guys to play with,” said Roeder. “I’m really happy we ended the season like this. It’s been awhile since we had a Flyers Cup run.”
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