SCHENECTADY — Shenendehowa finally solved the difficult puzzle that is LaSalle goalie Brendan Wagner.
Jesse Elliott stuck the last piece in the top left corner with 1:34 left, finishing a short-handed two-on-one for the game-winner in Shenendehowa’s 3-0 victory in the Section II Division I championship game at Messa Rink on Thursday night.
Two weeks after being shut out by Wagner, the Plainsmen appeared to be headed for overtime, but Elliott’s goal and two empty-netters gave Shenendehowa its sixth straight sectional title, sending the team into a frenzied pileup in front of their net.
No one empathized with Wagner more than his best friend, Shenendehowa goalie Nathan Mellow, who made 28 saves for the shutout.
“I’ll tell him he played a phenomenal game,” Mellow said.
“It’s a tribute to their team defense that we hadn’t scored on them five-on-five, and the goal that we scored today was short-handed. Go figure,” Shen coach Juan de la Rocha said.
“Jesse’s shot was unreal. We knew that to solve the acrobatics of Brendan Wagner, we were going to have to get him to commit to the ice, and go right up under the bar.”
The goal might not have been possible without the hustle of senior Adam Hitchko, who dug the puck away from Niall Cahill in the defensive zone, and passed ahead to Elliott.
Hitchko sprinted forward and caught up to his teammate at the blue line to create the two-on-one. The Cadets defender stayed with Hitchko, so Elliott snapped off a laser-beam wrist shot over Wagner’s right shoulder.
“The kid made a great shot, top shelf,”
LaSalle coach Tim Flanigan said. “Wagner had to respect the kid on the back side in case the pass came across. He had to stay a little deep. We played the two-on-one perfectly.”
“Adam was behind the play when he made that pass to Jesse, and by the time they reached the far blueline, he was back even with him, and that is the whole deal,” de la Rocha said. “That kept their defenseman honest and prevented him from overplaying Jesse, so it was just as much about Adam’s effort as Jesse’s.”
“I figured the ‘D’ would stay with him, because he’s our scorer,” Elliott said. “I had the whole top corner and just shot it, and it went in.”
Hitchko scored an empty-net goal with 53.3 seconds left, and Elliott got another one with 31.5 seconds left.
Both teams had had good scoring opportunities all night, but the goalies were sharp.
It took a pinpoint shot on an odd-man rush to beat one of them.
“It was a little scary,” Mellow said. “If I slip up, we’re down.”
“It was one of those games where whichever team scored first would win,” Flanigan said.
“I felt sorry for him [Wagner], because he brought them to where they are, and he was the reason we were so frustrated when we got shut out two weeks ago,” de la Rocha said.
Shenendehowa improved to
21-2-3, and LaSalle finished its season at 15-9-2.
It was the fourth championship for Hitchko, and the third for Mellow, but his first in which he was on the ice.
“I never felt like I got the entire, full effect of winning it until
tonight,” Mellow said.
“Coming up as a freshman, sophomore and junior, those championships felt excellent, too, but your senior year, it’s the last year you can do it, and it’s such a different feeling inside when you accomplish it,” Hitchko said.
LaSalle 0 0 0 — 0
Shenendehowa 0 0 3 — 3
First period — No scoring.
Second period — No scoring.
Third period — 1, Shen, Elliott (Hitchko, Mangino), 13:26 (sh). 2, Shen, Hitchko
(Macaluso), 14:06 (en). 3, Shen, Elliott (ua), 14:28 (en).
Shots on goal — LaSalle, 9-7-12 — 28. Shen, 10-14-7 — 31.
Power-play opportunities — LaSalle, 0 of 4; Shen, 0 of 1.
Goalie saves — LaSalle, Wagner, 28; Shen, Mellow, 28.