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Irey thinks outside the box as Strath Haven advances

PETE BANNAN — DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA Strath Haven's Mike Irey, right, here in action against Conestoga in the regular season, scored a hat trick as the Panthers beat Unionville, 7-4, in the Flyers Cup Class A quarterfinals Thursday night.

ASTON — Second-seeded Strath Haven defeated Unionville, 7-4, in the Flyers Cup A quarterfinals at Ice Works Thursday night in a game where the score belied the drama.

The No. 10 seed Indians led 2-0 and came back from two one-goal deficits once they fell behind. The Panthers sweated away the final minutes before adding a pair of empty-netters to reach the semifinals.

Through it all, one player found himself at the center of attention, for reasons both good and strange. Mike Irey scored the game-winning goal to complete a hat trick 1:35 into the third period after serving four minutes in penalties.

The sequence started toward the end of the second. Irey had scored Haven’s first and third goals in the frame, his second a coast-to-coast rush on the power play to give the hosts their first lead. He also moved from his first-line center position to the blue line and back. It was as a defenseman, with the score 4-3 in favor of Haven, that Irey laid out a Unionville player with what looked like a textbook body check. The ref saw it differently and whistled Irey for elbowing.

Then, as that penalty wound down, Irey was judged to have left the box before the two minutes expired. He climbed back in mid-play, with a delayed penalty in effect. Keigan Craig vacated the Indians’ net to give Unionville an extra attacker. Cameron Janofsky’s wrist shot beat Lukas Bernaus from the top of the circle. Tie game, 4-4.

“I thought I was on the boards with a second left, and my foot was on the ice,” Irey said of the second infraction. “I was obviously pretty disappointed going into the break. Everyone on the team kind of cheered me up a little. We were motivated coming out.”

Seconds after Irey was released from the box — for real, this time — he spotted a loose puck in the neutral zone, poked it forward and was off. He faked to the forehand, moved to his backhand and snuck one by Craig.

“When you have a player that talented, you want to let him fly,” Strath Haven coach Matt Chandik said. “Sometimes that means he takes a penalty. But he’s such a game-breaker.”

The Panthers needed that game-breaking ability, especially in light of a slow start. The Indians forced two early turnovers and converted both. Connor Malloy got the scoring started 57 seconds into the contest. The visitors led 2-0 6:40 in. Bryce Halsey fired a wrister past Bernaus’ glove hand.

Unionville outshot Haven, 9-6, in the period. Aside from a Liam Carney crossbar, the Panthers struggled to find quality scoring chances.

“We knew that Unionville would be well-coached,” Chandik said. “They beat Lower Moreland the other night (12-4 in the opening round). Watching that game, I thought, wow, this team, they put pucks to the net. They don’t beat themselves. They’ve got depth.”

The Indians were tough to break down. But as the tension built on the Haven bench, the leaders stepped up. Irey buried a rebound off a strong Josh Peabody rush to the net 1:09 into the second. Carney, another senior, followed with a shorthanded breakaway. Irey’s second goal gave the Panthers their first lead. Unionville, though, had an answer. Malloy fed Steven Cicchino in front for a one-timer to tie things at three.

“I think once we scored that third goal, we felt we had the game in our hands a little bit,” Malloy said.

The deadlock lasted all of 2:38 when Blayden Reid found the top corner on the power play.

The Mike Irey show followed. Somewhat at fault for the Indians’ fourth goal, Irey rectified the gaffe out of the gates in the third.

“You really just want to do it for your guys, the team, everyone who comes here to support you,” Irey said. “You want to take the lead, and everyone else will follow.”

So reliant on his high-scoring quartet of seniors — Irey (three goals), Carney (one goal), Reid (two goals, including an empty-netter, and an assist) and Ryan Spanier (empty-net goal) — Chandik praised his depth lines for locking down Unionville in the third. Sophomore Max Riess in particular was a pest. He was simply following Irey’s lead.

“Watching him play is just amazing,” Riess said. “I try to play like him sometimes, carrying the puck. I try to feed off what he does.”

The Indians, on the other hand, ran out of comebacks.

“It feels bad. We were feeling hot,” Malloy said. “Everyone was cheering, and once they took their lead … it was tough. Tough. But we’ll learn from our mistakes and come back even stronger.”

Strath Haven will take on No. 6 Hershey in the semifinals next Wednesday, March 13.

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