Nights don’t get much better for Sweet Home’s hockey team than Wednesday’s.
Just winning the small school semifinal game against defending champion West Seneca East by a score of 3-2 was nice enough. But this game carried an extra bonus.
The Panthers earned an automatic berth in the state regional championships.
“It’s a bonus game,” said a happy if relieved Dave Gerspach, the Sweet Home coach. “It times out just right for our seven seniors.”
The Panthers advanced to Monday’s Section VI championship game at the KeyBank Center.
The teams put on quite a show in the opener of a double-header. West Seneca East was the top seed and the Division 2 champion in the regular season, but Sweet Home figured to be no pushover. The Panthers were second in Division 3 with a 12-2 regular-season record.
With the score tied at 2, a scoring opportunity for WSE turned into a break for Sweet Home. Tyler Arndt of the Trojans sped down the right wing and headed to the net. In fact, he crashed into the goalie, earning a goalie interference penalty.
The Panthers scored on the ensuing power play. Tyler Edholm poked home the rebound with 9:35 left. Then it was a matter of holding on.
“That was the longest time in my career,” Edholm said.
West Seneca East had a couple of close calls along the way, hitting a couple of goal posts. But goalie Michael Lisman was up to the task the rest of the way. He was perfect when he had to be, especially when the Trojans had a power play in the final 1 minute, 16 seconds.
“Mike’s been our best player since January 1,” Gerspach said. “He’s been fantastic. When your goalie is your best player, you are going to do well.”
The first period of the game was quite even. The teams didn’t have many great scoring chances.
But the teams converted on their best chances of the period, and they did it in impressive style.
Damond Flynn of WSE had only been in the penalty box for five seconds when he was allowed to escape because of a goal. That’s how long it took for the Panthers to win a faceoff and make a pass to the slot. There Kyle Neudorf was in perfect position, and his shot found the net at 6:41.
About six minutes later, the Trojans were again short-handed. This time, though, they had other plans. WSE came down on a two-on-one break. Colin Schmatz didn’t need any help, as his perfect shot went in to tie the game at 12:28.
It was a similar story in the second period – Sweet Home took the lead, and West Seneca East tied it up. All of the scoring came in a frantic half-minute.
The Panthers went back in front on a scramble in front of the Trojans’ net. Blake Russo tapped it home and skated to the corner boards to celebrate. You’ll never see a happier forward.
West Seneca East apparently only needed a few seconds to tie it up. But the referee wiped off the goal because it was pushed ahead by a glove pass. Rather than become discouraged, the Trojans just went back to work. Wilford Whitney scored at 5:13 of the period, only 30 seconds after the Sweet Home score.
WSE piled up 15 shots in the 15-minute period, but its best chances came on plays that weren’t shots. The Trojans hit a couple of posts, including one with literally one second left on the clock. So, the teams needed a third period to decide matters.
“I’ll take luck over skill every time,” Gerspach said.
Wednesday, he had both. That’s why he and the Panthers are headed to the state tournament.