ASTON >> Whether it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs or the Central League semifinals, one rule supercedes all others when it comes to postseason hockey: you play through injury, no matter how painful — or bizarre — it may be.
Consider Springfield centerman Andrew Astrino. The senior ended up in the hospital recently when a nail went through his left hand courtesy of a broken couch and an ill-placed palm. Astrino sat out the regular season finale before suiting back up for the Cougars’ first-round win over Radnor.
He was back on the ice Wednesday as well and like any good hockey player, showed no signs of being hurt.
With a heavily-wrapped appendage, Astrino scored twice and added an assist as Springfield defeated Garnet Valley 5-1 at Ice Works.
“In the past two playoff games, (my hand’s) been wrapped,” explained Astrino. “I have padding and everything. It hasn’t affected me.”
Astrino wasn’t the only one ailing. Top scorer Tyler Riddle emerged from the post-game lockeroom with an ace bandage around his midsection. He took a body check playing for the Jr. Flyers on the weekend.
“He’s got a back injury,” Astrino said. “He’s playing through it. He’s still Tyler Riddle and he’s still making the plays.”
Indeed he is. Riddle assisted on both of Astrino’s goals. He also picked up a helper on Kevin Brown’s gamewinner, which came 10:25 into the second period.
While the top trio of Riddle-Astrino-Brown produced, it was the Cougars’ third line that broke a deadlock. After a scoreless first, Dan Barrett helped an Aidan Smith shot across the line to make it 1-0 Springfield.
“It really starts with our freshmen. They put the first goal home and they set the tone,” Astrino said of Smith and Barrett, both ninth-graders. “We’re not really expecting a goal from them. For them to get a goal lifts us up.”
That unit, complete with junior Nick Farese, also played a crucial role defensively. The Jaguars came out playing two lines, with speedy forwards Gannon Stuart and Anthony Starzi, who have combined for more than 100 points, eating up most of the ice time. Cougars coach Phil Eastman bet on his own guys to keep pace.
“We were really trying to stick with them,” Eastman said. “I thought if we could compete with three lines, we would wear them down.”
Stuart did find a breakthrough soon after Barrett’s marker. The Garnet Valley alternate captain picked up a puck in the neutral zone before firing a shot off the crossbar and into the net from the faceoff dot. That would be the last time the Jags beat Calin Losacco. Garnet was playing with a short bench and it showed. The Olympic sheet, some 15 feet wider than a typical North American rink, didn’t help.
“It’s bigger,” Stuart said. “It’s much harder to play on it (tired). It’s tougher to backcheck.”
The fatigue showed at the start of the third. After Brown gave Springfield the lead to close the second, Astrino pounced on an opportunity 37 seconds into the final frame. He collected a loose puck from Riddle behind the net and beat Lee Wheeler on a wraparound. Less than a minute later, Jacob Zappo scored on a breakaway. It was 4-1. Springfield’s depth took over.
“We had our forwards backchecking, so were staying in front of them,” said Cougars defenseman and captain Jim Schickling, who assisted on Zappo’s goal. “We tried to keep them to the outside as much as possible.”
Down on the scoreboard and running out of time, the Jags (8-10-1, 6-8-1 Central) failed to muster a comeback. Instead, they took out their frustration with shoves, errant sticks and cross-checks. After several minor scuffles, Michael Caratello lost his cool. He received a roughing penalty then on his way to the box shoved Riddle to the ice. Caratello earned a double-minor and a game misconduct. The teams combined for one penalty through two periods. They were charged with 14 in the third.
“We know we have a big game tomorrow,” Schickling said. “We have to keep everyone in it. You have to stay focused.”
Astrino responded on the scoreboard. His power-play tally made it 5-1. The Cougars (17-3-0, 14-1) will enjoy a night’s sleep before playing Ridley, 4-2 winners over Haverford, in Thursday’s championship.
“You just got to be ready to go, honestly,” Astrino said. “They’re going to be doing the same thing. Both teams will be tired.”