Downingtown East captured its second consecutive Flyers Cup AA title in dramatic fashion Thursday, defeating top seed Central Bucks South, 4-3, in overtime in the championship final at Hatfield Ice Arena.
It was the third consecutive overtime victory in the 2018 Flyers Cup tourney for the No. 2 seeded Cougars. Downingtown East trailed 3-1 early in the third period, but it didn’t faze the comeback-minded Cougars.
“I was absolutely sure we could come back from that deficit,” said Downingtown East head coach Dave Hendricks. “We have a core group of seniors who were unfazed by that score, and they had come back from deficits before [in the tourney]. They don’t quit, they don’t accept defeat.”
The Cougars edged Downingtown West, 4-3, in overtime, in the Flyers Cup quarterfinals March 8; then nipped third seed Conestoga, 2-1, in the semifinals Tuesday at Ice Line.
Meanwhile, Central Bucks South had outscored their opponents by a combined 12-5 score in the Flyers Cup quarterfinals and semifinals.
The Cougars never led in the championship final until the winning score by senior defender and co-captain Luca Pisani (who was assisted by Mike Bolger) on the power play at 7:54 of overtime, just 45 seconds after Central Bucks South was penalized for holding.
For the second year in a row, Pisani received the Bobby Clarke MVP Award for the Flyers Cup tourney. Last year, he won it as a forward.
“Luca is a big, strong kid who is really committed [to excellence],” said Hendricks. “In the last year, he’s spent a lot of time in the gym, putting on muscle. He played out of his mind in this series.”
Coming into Thursday’s championship final, the 6-2, 175-pound Pisani led the Cougars in Flyers Cup tourney assists, with five in three games.
The Cougars were called for only one penalty Thursday night, while Central Bucks South was called for three – and after each one, the Cougars scored on a power play.
The first time Downingtown East scored was on the power play, a Pisani goal assisted by forward Mark Stankiewicz and defender Eric Stankiewicz at 12:27 of the second period, and it tied the contest at 1-1.
“Both Eric and Luca, as co-captains, have really shaped this team,” noted Hendricks.
Early in the third period, the Cougars fell behind, 3-1. Downingtown East cut the margin to 3-2 on another power play goal, this time by forward Jack Barton and assisted by senior forward Justin Cohn at 5:45 of the third period.
Downingtown East defender Patrick Bobko scored his first goal of the Flyers Cup series at 11:57 of the third period to tie the score at 3-3.
The Cougars outshot Central Bucks South, 35-21, but CB South goalie Oscar Levin made 31 saves. Downingtown East goalie Matt Shandler had 18 saves, for his fourth win in goal during the Flyers Cup series. Coming into Thursday’s contest, Shandler’s goals-against average was 1.66 and his save percentage was .915.
In the first three games of the Flyers Cup tourney, the Downingtown East scoring was led by Cohn (four goals, four assists), Pisani (one goal, five assists), senior forward Alex Fox (four goals, two assists) and Barton (two goals, four assists).
“Justin Cohn and Alex Fox have really anchored our [forward] line,” said Hendricks. “And they really played strongly tonight in the final.”
In the days leading up to the championship final, Downingtown East studied a lot of film of the Central Bucks South squad.
“We made several small changes in our game plan based on what we saw in the film, and I think that really paid off for us tonight,” said Hendricks.
The Downingtown East coach said that the Cougars also received a wake-up call when they lost to Downingtown West in the Ches-Mont championship finals.
“Ever since we lost that [Ches-Mont final], our players have had laser focus,” said Hendricks. “I think that loss was an awakening for us.”
Downingtown East’s next game is the Pennsylvania Cup March 24 at Ice Line, to be played against the winner of the Penguins Cup (to be determined March 20).
“We’re looking forward to seeing all of our fans coming out to watch us at Ice Line,” said Hendricks.
Last year, Downingtown East captured its first-ever Pennsylvania Cup (Class AA), defeating Plum 3-1 in the championship final at Robert Morris University Sports Center in Pittsburgh. Minutes after that game, Hendricks talked about what that state title meant to him and the rest of the Cougars.
“When the game ends, you try to hold back your tears of joy, but they came out anyway, flowing like rivers,” said Hendricks. “Winning the first state title for Downingtown [East] means everything to us. I feel [happy] for all of our kids, the sacrifices that they made all season long to get to this [championship].”
Downingtown East 4, Central Bucks South 3
Downingtown East 0 1 2 1 – 4
Central Bucks South 1 1 1 0 – 3
Downingtown East goals: Pisani 2, Barton, Bobko.
C.B. South goals: Braccio 2, DeLaurentis.
Goalie saves: Shandler (DTE) 18, Levin (CBS) 31.
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