ASTON — When Conestoga’s Will Schnorr picked up a loose puck in overtime against Strath Haven, he was well aware of the situation — not just that there was less than a minute to play in the extra session but also that he and the Pioneers had battled the Panthers for nearly an hour. The back and forth left both benches woefully short of breath.
“I got the puck and saw we got a two-on-one,” Schnorr said. “It was rolling, so I was just trying to settle it first. I didn’t think anyone was back-checking. Everyone was tired, so I took my time.”
He fired high to the short side to beat Lukas Bernaus and give Conestoga a crucial 4-3 victory Monday night at IceWorks. The Pioneers (13-1-1 overall, 12-1-0 Central) moved into the Central’s top spot, overtaking the now second-place Panthers (13-2-1, 11-2-1).
“I think it’s a lesson for us,” Strath Haven defenseman Blayden Reid said. “We just played the best team in the Central League, and they have the number one seed.”
But the gap between one and two is tight.
“We’re close,” Reid said.
That was evident in the third period. The Panthers, up 3-2, hit two posts in the frame. The first came off the stick of Reid, the second a superb one-on-one play by Mike Irey. Irey pulled the puck between his legs, gathered it on the other side, then slid a shot to the left of Malcolm Roeder. It bounced off the iron and settled underneath the goalie.
Those two chances came back to bite Strath Haven late. At five-on-five, the Panthers had controlled Conestoga’s top line of Schnorr, Jayden Sison and Frank Konopasek. In fact, Haven’s Colorado Cooper spent the majority of his shifts in the final period glued to Konopasek, who entered the night with 23 goals and 59 assists. The Czech winger had no space — until he did. He popped free on an offensive zone draw and tied things at three with 53.6 seconds to play.
“I couldn’t believe it, honestly,” Konopasek said. “I don’t know how I got open. I just went to the middle, got the puck, shot and it went in.”
“He’s a dangerous guy,” Reid said. “If he’s open with the puck, you know he’s going to shoot it. He just happened to be open in the slot.”
As good as Konopasek is, the Panthers forced him out of rhythm early with their own top guns. Liam Carney, Irey and Ryan Spanier — now with 56 goals between them — pinned Conestoga in its own end for much of the first two periods. Strath Haven outshot the visitors, 29-14, through 32 minutes, 15-3 in the second period alone. Spanier one-timed an Irey pass to pull the Panthers even at one with a shorthanded marker 1:15 into the second. Josh Peabody made it 2-1 2:05 later with a quick wrist shot from an acute angle.
The Pioneers only escaped the onslaught with key saves from Roeder as well as a two-for-three start on the power play. Bobby Albertson cashed in in the first period, while Konopasek knotted the score at two midway through the second.
But the Panthers kept coming — Roeder, who finished with 37 saves, never saw Brett Miller’s point shot. It rang off his post and in.
That lead held up until the game’s 48th and last minute before a highly entertaining overtime ensued. Bernaus was excellent, preventing Konopasek’s hat trick with a pad save on a wrap-around and then with a sprawling stop on a one-timer out front.
Carney had Haven’s best shot, but Roeder sticked it away. Schnorr then played the role of hero.
“It’s stressful. If you win, it’s fun,” Konopasek said of the three-on-three format. “If you lose, I don’t know if it’s a lot of fun.”
Soon after the final buzzer, the teams were already considering a rematch.
“It’s kind of in our hands now. I know they’re a great team,” Schnorr said of possibly seeing the Panthers a third time — Conestoga is now 2-0 against Haven on the season. “We have the ability to beat anyone we want when we play well, so it comes down to our preparation, our game plan and playing our way.”
“We brought the effort. We just have to finish stronger,” Reid said. “It’s better to lose now in February than in the Central League playoffs. We just have to bring the same effort.”
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