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The St. Mary’s Lancers finished their regular season on a high note, defeating Sweet Home by a score of 3-1 and tying the Panthers and St. Francis Red Raiders for first place in Division 3.

However, according to coach Mark Dantonio, the three-way tie for the top spot in their division wasn’t the Lancers’ main concern. What the Lancers really wanted was to improve their seeding among Monsignor Martin teams and to see how they matched up against one of Western New York’s better rosters.

“I thought we came out a little slowly but we pulled back together to win later on,” Dantonio said. “It’s an important win for us, because it’s likely that we’ll be playing St. Francis again, and there’s no better measuring stick for our roster than going against a team in your own division that has played lights-out so far.”

The Lancers struck first a little less than five minutes into the first period on a goal by Brendan Krawcyzk. Slightly more than a period later, Collin Coogan threaded a backhand into the Lancers’ net to tie the game at one, and for the rest of the second stanza the Panthers dominated the play on ice, out-shooting the Lancers by a wide margin.

Sensing that his team was being out-played, Dantonio decided to become a bit more daring with his strategy. Following a threat during the intermission to his squad of a bag skate the following day at practice, Dantonio decided to implement a two-man forecheck in order to become more aggressive.

“I told the guys, ‘If we don’t come out in the third period and play the way we’re supposed to, we’re going to skate without pucks tomorrow.’ And they listened,” Dantonio said. “We also wanted to put (Sweet Home) back on their heels a little bit, so we switched from a one-man forecheck – a more passive approach – to a two-man one to take away some time and space.

“When we decided to make the change, I realized that we could get burned by that if our third skater didn’t take away the slot. But we made sure to do it, and at the end of the day, we did a nice job executing it.”

The plan worked. The Lancers, for the most part, hemmed the Panthers in their own zone via the applied pressure and didn’t allow many scoring opportunities throughout the third period.

St. Mary’s was rewarded for its strong defensive output when the team found itself with a two-on-one breakaway with about ten minutes left. Seeing that his teammate was well-covered by the opposing defenseman, Michael Chirico decided to shoot instead of pass and beat Panthers goaltender Michael Lisman with a wrist shot that gave his team the lead.

Following more solid defensive play by the Lancers, Robert Stoklosa iced the game with an empty-net goal with under a minute to play.

Up next for the Lancers is the playoffs, and Dantonio’s squad knows that it will be the time of year to win or go home. His roster is relishing the chance to face St. Francis again.

“We’re going to take what we’ve learned this season, watch the tape of our previous meetings with St. Francis and leave it all on the table,” Dantonio said. “We’ve never reached the semifinals in the history of our school, so this is a big opportunity for our program to make some noise.”