WEST GOSHEN >> Nick Higgins and Downingtown West have told themselves, ever since the Flyers Cup brackets came out, that the number 15 next to their name was just that: a number.
On Wednesday night, it was another number, 3 — as in goals scored by Higgins — that kept the Whippets’ Cinderella run on track.
A track all the way to NHL ice at the Wells Fargo Center.
Higgins’ hat trick helped 15th-seeded Downingtown West pull off their third upset of the tournament, beating No. 3 Conestoga, 8-5, at Ice Line, and booking a spot in Sunday’s Flyers Cup Class AA championship at Wells Fargo Center.
West will face either archrival and top seed Downingtown East, or No. 4 Pennridge. The Cougars and Rams square off Thursday night in their semifinal.
“My grandfather passed on this date two years back,” Higgins said. “I was definitely playing for him today.”
Higgins scored three of the 13 goals in a high-scoring affair, and was joined on the scoresheet by teammates David McQuiston and Charlie Cliggett, who had two goals each, and Josh Biskowitz.
Frank Konpasek had a hat trick for Conestoga and assisted on the other two goals, both scored by Jayden Sison.
:We thought we had a real chance to make a run this year,” said Conestoga coach Mike Graves. “Every time we had an answer, they had a response back. We were just trying to tie the game all game, but they just kept coming back.”
Downingtown West opened the scoring just 1:31 into the game with an unassisted goal from McQuiston. The Pioneers answered just 1:50 later with a goal from Sison.
The game was not tied for long, exactly two minutes after Conestoga tied it up, Cliggett scored his first goal of the night, assisted by Zak Spero. Just 1:33 after that goal, Higgins also had his first goal of the night, assisted by Biskowitz, to give the Cougars the 3-1 lead early in the first period.
“I told them good job but we aren’t done,” said West coach Ryan Smith. “We set out early in the season to make it to the Flyers Cup final and we’re there but we need to win it now.”
Surprisingly, there would not be another goal for almost 10 minutes before Konopasek found the back of the net, with assists from Will Schnorr and Sison. Just 43 seconds later with exactly a minute left in the first period, Higgins scored his second goal, assisted by Cliggett and carried their 4-2 into the second period.
The Whippets’ two-goal lead did not last long, as Sison scored his second goal of the night on a shorthanded breakaway off a pass from Konopasek and finished the drive with a beautiful backhand that snuck past goalie Eric West,
Downingtown West had a long possession, forcing Conestoga to ice the puck with 13:01 left in the second, with the shots even 12-12. The Whippets had multiple chances and outshot them, 7-1, but were unable to add to their lead. There were 32 shots in the game at that point, but through the middle of the second period, the teams went almost five minutes without a shot on goal until Cliggett netted his second of the night with 4:23 remaining, assisted by Lou DeCola.
Downingtown West outshot Conestoga, 12-6, in the second period and had a 5-3 lead going into the final period.
The Pioneers scored shorthanded again 1:10 into third period with another goal from Konopasek, assisted by Schnorr, to cut the Cougar lead back to one. With 11:06 left, Conestoga tried to clear the puck but it hit off one of the Pioneers. Cliggett recovered the puck for the Whippets and assisted on a goal by McQuiston, making the score 6-4.
Just two minutes later, Biskowitz would score his only goal of the night, but perhaps the biggest, to give Downingtown West a three goal lead with 9:03 remaining in the third period.
An empty net goal from Higgins finished things off, and capped a special hat trick for the Whippet star.
“Even though he gave up five goals, Eric West made some big saves in net. He’s been our rock for four years, it’s fantastic to see him prevail and make it to the Flyers Cup final,” Smith said. “Nick Higgins came up huge, he’s a senior who is the last of three brothers and none of his brothers were able to achieve this so it is pretty special for him.”
Downingtown West 8, Conestoga 5
Conestoga 2 1 2 – 5
Downingtown West 4 1 3 – 8
Downingtown West goals: Konopasek 3, Higgins 3, McQuiston 2.
Conestoga goals: Cliggett 2, Sison 2, Biskowitz.
Goalie saves: Roeder (C) 17, Konopasek (C) 15, West (DW) 24
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