WEST GOSHEN — The reality hit Strath Haven as hard as Hershey: the Panthers’ most talented senior class in at least a decade, maybe ever, will leave the ice without a title to its name.
No. 2 Strath Haven fell, 6-3, to the No. 6 Trojans in the Flyers Cup A semifinals Wednesday night at Ice Line.
The Panthers had their fair share of chances in the second and third periods. Liam Carney was denied by Christopher Larkin’s leg pad. Larkin later stoned Max Riess on a breakaway. Mike Irey hit a crossbar. And Strath Haven went 0-2 on third-period power plays.
But the contest wasn’t lost in the final minutes; it was lost in the first two. For the second consecutive game, the Panthers found themselves down two goals early. Toby Kauffman gave Hershey a 1-0 lead 1:20 in. Less than a minute later, Patrick Naughton doubled the visitors’ advantage. And suddenly, a favored Haven went back to the drawing board.
“You’re basically starting the game down two goals. Who can play like that?” Panthers head coach Matt Chandik said. “Next thing you know, we have to go (power play one) the entire game.”
Power play one, “PP1” in the parlance of the coach, was made up of forwards Carney, Ryan Spanier, Josh Peabody, Blayden Reid and center-turned-defenseman Mike Irey. The quintet had combined for 87 regular season goals (according to statistics provided by ICSHL.org) and 16 more in Flyers Cup wins over Hatboro-Horsham (11-1) and Unionville (7-4).
They always needed to provid the offensive spark for Haven, and now, facing an 0-2 deficit, they were relied on even more.
Double-shifting from the third minute on, Irey turned the tide in the first. He and Peabody broke in on a two-on-one, with the latter setting up the former. Irey went high glove, an emphatic finish and celebration to match, one of those momentous goals he seems to score every game.
Just 1:32 into the second, Irey returned the favor. He sprinted onto a loose puck, peeked at Peabody trailing, and provided a behind-the-back pass to the freshman, who beat Larkin to the forehand.
The Panthers dominated the shot chart in the second period as well, doubling up the Trojans 14-7. But they didn’t find that crucial third goal just yet, and it cost them. Jason Rippon Jr. restored Hershey’s lead with 4:42 to play in the second. Larkin’s doorstep save on Carney and his breakaway stop on Riess followed.
The Trojans’ netminder finished with 37 saves in total. Hershey’s depth also played a role in keeping Irey and Co. at bay.
“We had three solid lines throughout the whole year,” forward Brady Bowman said. “All three were able to hang with them and wear them down.”
The Trojans started the third like they started the game. Karsyn Kehler jammed in a rebound on the power play to make it 4-2. Then Bowman, one of four Hershey seniors, converted a two-on-one from Rippon as the Trojans pulled away.
“I mean it’s pretty tough, we still played well,” Peabody said. “We just didn’t get the chances that we needed and didn’t bear down when it counted.”
In the end, it was Peabody who provided the last highlight of the Haven season, and the last glimpse of hope at that, when he jumped on a Carney pass with 5:26 to play and scored on the break.
“I was going through the middle of the ice, and I was screaming at Carney: ‘Chip, chip, chip,’” Peabody said. “And he chipped the puck perfectly to my stick.”
That goal gave the Panthers life, but Hershey snuffed it out. Rolling those three lines, the Trojans wore down Haven’s big guns. After being outshot by that 2-1 margin in the second, Hershey fired nine shots to the Panthers’ 11 in the third, a total helped by two power plays.
Bowman scored his second of the night to seal things. The win gives the Trojans a Sunday date at the Wells Fargo Center with five-time defending state champion West Chester Rustin.
“The past three years, we’ve lost to them every year in the Flyers Cup,” Bowman said. “I think we know them well enough now. It should be a good game.”
To add to the ignominy of the defeat, Irey’s career, as wonderful as it was, ended with a major penalty for fighting and a game misconduct. Reid also served a penalty as time expired.
Haven’s season, like its night in general, failed to go according to plan.
“Of course they’re crushed. Those guys saw themselves winning Centrals, Flyers Cup and states,” Chandik said. “To go 0-3, it certainly doesn’t feel good.”
There were positives to take away for the Panthers, though, namely Peabody. He opened his debut season with hat trick against Rustin and closed it with a two-goal performance in an elimination game. Peabody will be charged with continuing to bring the program forward.
“Three years ago, the thought of Strath Haven being disappointed with a Flyers Cup semi would’ve been just asinine,” Chandik said. “And now it’s like, yeah we are disappointed. Yeah, we did underachieve. That shows how far we’ve come.”
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