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La Salle scores twice in final minute, stuns Holy Ghost Prep in Flyers Cup AAA semifinals

La Salle's David Brunner take a shot on goal against Holy Ghost Prep during their Flyers Cup AAA semifinal on Thursday, March 14, 2019. (Gene Walsh/MediaNews Group)

HATFIELD TWP. >> The reaction told La Salle’s Sam Lipkin all he needed to know.

“I barely saw it going in,” he said. “I kind of just saw the net and everyone started celebrating.”

The sophomore forward spun and unleashed a shot that squeezed between Holy Ghost Prep goalkeeper Sean Joyce and the near right post with 17.1 seconds left in regulation, capping an almost improbable comeback that sent the Explorers to the Flyers Cup AAA championship game.

In a span of 11 seconds, La Salle went from elimination to pure elation, scoring twice in the final 30 seconds of the third period to stun Holy Ghost Prep 5-4 in their semifinal contest Thursday night at Hatfield Ice.

“You can’t put it into words,” Lipkin said. “But we just had to get the pucks to the net and we did and we got the bounces.”

Daniel Sambuco struck for the equalizer with 28.1 seconds left for the second of his two goals. Lipkin also scored twice goals as the Explorers posted all five of their goals in a frenzied third period that ended with La Salle heading to its first Flyers Cup final since 2017.

“It happened so quick, I was still processing the goal before when the second one went in,” said La Salle goalie Aiden McCabe, who stopped 28 of 32 shots. “But we got it done.”

The Explorers face defending AAA champ St. Joseph’s Prep — a 6-2 winner over Malvern Prep in the other semifinal — 7 p.m. Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. La Salle’s last Flyers Cup title came in 2016.

“We’re never thinking the season’s over, not at all,” La Salle coach Walter Muehlbronner said. “The way we’ve been about to score throughout the season, I thought we could get one, I sure didn’t think we could get two. But I thought we could get one in that last minute and 20 is when we were looking to pull (the goaltender), I thought we’d get one.”

Colin Costello and Byron Hartley both finished with a goal and  an assist while Alex D’Angelo added two assists for Holy Ghost Prep, which was looking to reach its fifth consecutive Flyers Cup AAA final. Joyce made 27 saves on 32 shots for the Firebirds.

“We had a heck of a lot of momentum once we tied it up,” Muehlbronner said. “And things happen in this game pretty quick.”

The Explorers trailed 2-0 at the start of the third but were level 3:09 into the period and again tied the game 3-3 on Lipkin’s first goal. But Dan Behr answered just 63 seconds later and the Firebirds appeared poised for a return trip to the title game still up one in the final minute.

With its goalie pulled, La Salle won a faceoff in the HGP zone, worked the puck around the back of net with Nathan Benner getting it to Sambuco, who sent a tight-angle shot towards a crowd in front of the goal and it found its way in to make it 4-4 with 28.1 seconds to go in regulation.

“Sambuco threw up six times during the game, he’s hurting but he played a great third period,” Muehlbronner said.

La Salle’s Michael Casey looks to shoot against Holy Ghost Prep during their Flyers Cup AAA semifinal on Thursday, March 14, 2019. (Gene Walsh/MediaNews Group)

On the ensuing faceoff, Sambuco sent the puck into the Holy Ghost zone, Joyce sent it over to the sideboards but La Salle’s Michael Casey chipped it a little further down the ice. Lipkin was there to gather it behind the goal line, evaded the sliding poke-check of Andrew Serafin, spun and wristed in the game-winner at 17.1 seconds.

“We didn’t get the chance last year, we had a heartbreaker last year and the guys just stuck together. We knew we beat them four times they were going to come out hard. And we were just lucky enough to win it.”

Holy Ghost held a 2-0 lead after goals from Costello and Hartley in the second period but La Salle regrouped during the resurfacing break and 52 seconds into the third Sambuco found the back of the net to make it 2-1.

“We knew we could come back,” McCabe said. “We knew the game was far from over. We still had 17 minutes, only a two-goal deficit, we knew we could come back.”

Holy Ghost Prep Thomas McNulty looks to shoot near La Salle’s Daniel Sambuco during their Flyers Cup AAA semifinal on Thursday, March 14, 2019. (Gene Walsh/MediaNews Group)

Collin Kleiser knotted the contest at two at 13:51 in the third as he shot from the left point got through traffic and past Joyce.

“(Holy Ghost Prep coach Gump Whiteside) was running two lines the whole third period, we tried to match our top line not against D’Angelo’s line,” Muehlbronner said. “But I don’t think that was a huge difference, I just think we played harder in the third period. We picked up our intensity.”

The Firebirds, however, regained the lead 1:45 later as Evan Mudrick powered through the middle of the Explorers’ zone to send a shot by McCabe at 12:06.

It stayed 3-2 HGP until 4:38 left in regulation when Sambuco wrapped around the net then found Lipkin at the right post for the tying goal.

“He kind of just out-waited the goalie,” said Lipkin of Sambuco. “Goalie just kind of baited on thinking that he was shooting it and he put it on my stick.”

La Salle’s Michael Casey battles Holy Ghost Prep’s Alex D’Angelo in a faceoff during their Flyers Cup AAA semifinal on Thursday, March 14, 2019. (Gene Walsh/MediaNews Group)

But the Firebirds responded once more, grabbing back the one-goal edge when Behr struck off a D’Angelo assist at 3:35 to make it 4-3.

After a scoreless first period, Costello opening the game’s scoring capping a give-and-go with D’Angelo at 10:12 in the second. Hartley doubled the Firebirds’ lead at 7:01 in the period by converting on a shorthanded breakaway.



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