WEST GOSHEN – Lofty expectations can become a burden, especially if you’ve built an ice hockey dynasty like they have at West Chester Rustin under head coach Nick Russo. But the Golden Knights also know how to rise to the occasion in crunch time.
On Tuesday, with a berth in the Flyers Cup A Final at stake, and going head-to-head for the fourth time this season against a bitter rival, Rustin overcame an early deficit and peppered West Chester East’s talented keeper Joe Galitski with 63 shots on goal. The end result was a 7-2 semifinal victory for the Knights, who advance to Sunday’s championship.
“Our seniors in the room, this is their fourth trip to the Flyers Cup Final — they don’t really get too tight,” Russo said.
“I think we are used to the pressure,” added senior forward Nick Ferraro. “We are just out there having fun and playing our game. Everyone says that we should win, but we don’t think that way. We are prepared for every team to play with us. We play every shift hard.”
The defending five-time state champs, Rustin (23-7-1 overall) will be favored to win its sixth Flyers Cup crown in a row on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center against the (2) Strath Haven-(6) Hershey winner, which will take place Wednesday. East falls to 11-3-4 overall.
“Sixty three shots, obviously, wasn’t part of the game plan,” said East head coach Eric Wolf. “We didn’t get enough sticks on pucks. We didn’t make it difficult enough for (Rustin) to get pucks to the net.”
In front of two large student sections that made up a big part of a packed Ice Line crowd, it was a highly emotional contest with ebbs and flows early. But the Knights reeled off the final five goals to break a 2-2 deadlock and take the season series 2-1-1. The Vikings were very competitive early but clearly lost their composure late.
“It’s a very intense rivalry,” Russo acknowledged. “As gifted as these guys are with their club teams, they will never play in front of a crowd like that.
“Afterwards, I told them, ‘that’s the way to drop the bomb.’ We took the lead and didn’t look back.”
Ferraro led the way early with a natural hat-trick, and then junior Jack Page surged late with two goals (in addition to three assists) as the Knights pulled away. And when the outcome was assured, East star forward Nick Castura and teammate Rickie Mullineaux were hit with game misconduct penalties.
“Nick (Ferraro) broke it open for us and that’s what he does best,” Russo said. “Nick and Jack (Page) put the team on their back and carried us.”
The Knights – who have outscored three Flyers Cup opponents 32-2 — opened with a flourish, notching 11 of the first 12 shots on goal. But East scored first on a power play goal by Castura that caromed off the back leg of Rustin keeper Joel Keller midway through the first period.
“Our goal was to get through the first three minutes because (Rustin’s) been on cruise control from the second period on, and then we were fortunate enough to pop one,” Wolf said. “That planted a little bit of doubt in (Rustin) and it said that we were here to play.
“We did a good job of that for 29-30 minutes, but we didn’t get enough to the net, and then at the end we got a little bit unhinged.”
Just five seconds after the Vikings’ first penalty, Ferraro tied it up on a goal off a pass from Page at the 3:40 mark. And then 13 seconds later, Ferraro struck again off another Page assist to make it 2-1 through one period.
Castura knotted it once again for East right off of the faceoff on a laser to start the second, but the Knights dominated the rest of the period. Ferraro completed the hat trick with a top-shelf power play goal midway, and then Rustin finally got a little breathing room when Page scored on a blast that was redirected off a skate with 1:29 on the clock.
“That’s the one that took a little wind out of us,” Wolf admitted.
“We knew we were playing in (East’s) zone the whole game and we knew if we just played solid in the defensive zone, everything would come offensively,” Page explained. “That’s a lot of shots on goal and (Galitski) played an awesome game. If it wasn’t for him, it would have been even worse.”
The Knights proceeded to score three more goals in the final 10 minutes of action, starting with an unassisted power play tally by Matt Owens, where he skated through five defenders. Page and Ian Strasinski rounded out the scoring.
“We contested a lot more in the first period, then a little fatigue set in and we got caught running around in our own end,” Wolf said. “Our man-to-man defense broke down too much and we got caught chasing the puck.”
Gilitski finished an exhausting day with an astounding 61 saves. His counterpart, Keller, turned aside 27.
“Gilitski is the best goalie in the league,” Russo said. “I’ve known him since he was a mite and it was a treat to watch him play.”
Ferraro and the rest of the seniors now have their eye on a fourth Flyers Cup title in their four years of high school hockey.
“It gets harder and harder every year. I just try to take care of the pressure for our players. That’s my job,” Russo said.
“This is always the biggest rivalry of the season,” Page added.
“It’s big, especially for the seniors, to play (East) in front of a big crowd,” Ferraro echoed. “It was electric.”
West Chester Rustin 7, West Chester East 2
W.C. East 1 1 0 — 2
W.C. Rustin 2 2 3 — 7
W.C. East goals: Castura 2.
W.C. Rustin goals: Ferraro 3, Page 2, M. Owens, Strasinski.
Goalie saves: Galitski (WCE) 61; Keller (WCR) 27.
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