WEST CHESTER >> As 22 West Chester Rustin hockey players happily left the ice with their gold medals at Ice Line Saturday afternoon, their fifth consecutive state title secured, perhaps the most impressive — and for rival programs, scariest — fact was that all but three of them will return next season.
Among them will be junior forward Nick Ferraro, whose pair of goals led the scoring attack for the Knights in securing yet another Class A state title over previously undefeated Bishop McCort (Johnstown) by a final score of 4-1.
The Knights’ latest title was a master class on efficient, responsible hockey by the victors. After an early power play marker for the Crushers, Rustin killed off the next four man advantages in the game. Conversely, it took the Knights only 17 seconds to cash in on their first man advantage, which came halfway through the second period and yielded the squad’s fourth and final goal.
“I think we took away a lot of their momentum, scoring so quickly on that power play,” said Ferraro.
Next year, Ferraro will be a senior — part of the class that will be responsible for trying to set a state record with a sixth consecutive title.
“We’ll start working towards that tomorrow,” he said. “We don’t stop.”
The end result was a game that looked pretty even on the scoresheet — and after the first period, on the ice — but thanks to Rustin’s accountability in all facets, was never truly in doubt after the opening minutes.
Rustin finished the campaign with a record of 19-2-3, while Bishop McCort’s lone loss left them with a still-impressive 23-1 mark.
For Rustin, it was not only the completion of the “drive for five” consecutive state titles, but dating back to the 2008-2009 school year, the culmination of a decade that saw the school—which only opened in 2006 — claim six of a possible 10 Class A state ice hockey championships.
“Ronald Reagan used to say ‘You look good when you surround yourself with great people,’ said Rustin coach Nick Russo. “I’ve got a great staff, and a bunch of kids who know how to win.
“The alumni are here, they hold everyone accountable — it’s the whole community. Detroit calls themselves HockeyTown, but I think they’re Hockey City. I think Hockey Town is West Chester Rustin.”
This title held some special significance for Coach Russo, as this year’s class was the first group to come through the elementary school program.
“It starts when we’re young,” said team captain Connor Lapps, “and we just keep building onto it, and the result is what you see out on the ice today.”
The support for Rustin was evident, from alumni to students and parents, and even finer points such as videography — spearheaded by John Breznicky — responsible for giving the team an extra edge in preparation.
“John’s our head video guy — he’s done this professionally for years, and it allows us to break everything down,” said Russo. It’s that simple, but it’s that big for us.”
The three seniors on the team — Evan Greenberg, Lapps, and Ben Meisenger — became the second straight graduating class of Rustin players to leave the ice a perfect 4-for-4 in state championship games. From the looks of things, they may not be the last.
“It’s very special, a great accomplishment, said Lapps, “and the train keeps rolling for next year.”
Justin Demyan got Rustin started at 2:08 with a score off a scramble in front of the net, but an ensuing McCort power play saw the Crusaders swarm the defensive zone, with Brett Seitz solving Rustin goalie Joel Keller on a short wrister at 8:44 of the first.
Less than a minute later, Rustin’s leading scorer Ferraro took advantage of a mishandled shot to give the Knights back the one-goal margin. After a slashing penalty, Ian Strasinski came darting out of the box to take a feed from Matt Owens to grow the lead to 3-1 at 12:31 of the first.
The Knights were dominant in 5-on-5 play early, leading shots 13-8 in the first period — but all but one McCort shot came on the power play.
A much stronger McCort start to the second period was repeatedly equaled by Keller, then negated at the nine-minute mark when Ferraro cashed in Rustin’s first power play opportunity off a point feed from Strasinski.
Bishop McCort’s best chance of the period cane with about five minutes on the clock, when Keller swatted away a puck that was centimeters from crossing the goal line and getting McCort back into the game.
Crushers goalie Cole Bradley kept his team alive, robbing Lucas Christie of Rustin with seconds to play in the period.
For McCort, the game was best explained through two golden third-period opportunities that left the Penguins Cup champs shaking their heads. After Alex Komov’s breakaway opportunity glanced off the post with 13 minutes to play, the Knights buckled down with a forechecking and defensive effort that can only be described as demoralizing to Bishop McCort’s comeback hopes. At every turn, a Knight seemed to be with five feet of the puck, with a teammate in perfect position to offer support.
The Crushers had one last chance on a penalty shot in the dying moments, but couldn’t convert. Two minutes later, the Knights were champions again.
“They were our first elementary school team. I remember putting them on the ice,” said Russo. “It sure is cool seeing them grow up like this.”
So how long can the dynasty continue?
“I can’t tell the future,” admitted Russo, “but I’ll enjoy this one tonight and tomorrow, and we’ll get right back after it Monday.”
Told that his leading scorer, Ferraro, was planning to get back to work a day earlier, Russo laughed.
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