Playing a number-two seed with a reputation for getting physical and skating fast, Notre Dame Head Coach Marc Staley had a plan: Bottle up the neutral zone and force Churchville-Chili to pass.
"We forced them to dump the puck," Staley said. "They don’t want to dump the puck and grind it out. They want to score on the rush and use their speed. We took their speed out of it."
For three periods, the eight-seeded Fighting Irish skated as a team, and when they got power play opportunities in the third period, they made the most of it, turning a 1-1 tie into a 4-2 victory and a Class B Section V crown.
Josh Johnston scored all three third-period goals, giving him seven total for the post-season, and securing the game's MVP trophy.
"We came in thinking, 'we’re not the underdogs,' " Johnston said. "Clearly, seeding-wise we were, but we just stuck together as a family and played together as hard as we could."
Three post-season wins have moved the once break-even Irish to 11-8-3 and a chance to play for a regional title.
"Nobody thought much of us three or four weeks ago, but we pulled this thing together," Staley said. "As we put one good game against another good game against another good game, these kids feel like a completely different team than they did three weeks ago. I’ve seen that transformation and it’s been very special to be a part of it."
The first goal in the game for Notre Dame came with 1:11 left in the second period on a shot by Zack Blew to tie the score at 1-1.
Johnston scored on a power play at 7:47 in the final period. Seconds after the next faceoff, Johnson scored again to make the score 3-1.
The nail in the coffin for the Saints (16-4-3) came with under two minutes left in the game, only 13 seconds after Churchville-Chili pulled into a point of a tie on a goal by Dan Kuter.
Tyler Kessler zipped a pass to Johnston who was skating just ahead of his defender giving him a one-on-one match with goalie Dylan Niewiemski.
Johnston faked to his left, and then flipped the puck from his right past the outstretched glove of Niewiemski, giving Johnston the hat trick and putting the game pretty much out of reach with time quickly winding down.
"We've been practicing that blow-out play," Staley said. "We always like to run this play right after a big emotional play because you tend to have a let down. They scored that one goal, we called that play, Kessler picks it up, hits Hosh and we go right back after them.
"Sometimes the best defense is to throw another punch," Staley added.
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The Fighting Irish just won their semi-final hockey game, played at Monroe Community College, against Irondequoit by a score of 2-1.
Mason Versage shot the game-winning goal at 5:36 in overtime.
We're expecting to have a few pictures and more information available later, hopefully tonight.
UPDATE 11:32 p.m.: Received a message from Coach Marc Staley. This is the third time in 20 years Notre Dame hockey advances to the Section V title game, which will be at 1 p.m. Sunday at RIT against Churchville-Chili. This will be the first time in Section V hockey history that the #8 seed has made it to the finals. "Cinderella still has the slippers on!" Staley said.
UPDATE 11:52 p.m.: Photo added, Versage scores the winning goal. Photo by Bare Antolos.
The Brockport Blue Devils Ice Hockey Team came into the Section V playoffs as the number-one seed, and were stunned Saturday night in an overtime loss to number-eight seed, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
So stunned, that as Irish players skated toward the victory celebration one Brockport player gave a Notre Dame player a shove and another started yelling and gesturing toward cheering Le Roy fans.
"I think I'm about one of 30 people in the world that's not surprised by this (victory)," said Coach Marc Staley after the game. "In the playoffs, it's all about momentum and we've really been building the past three or four weeks with this team."
Josh Johnston, who had two goals in the night, slipped passed defenders with a pass from Mason Versage and flipped the puck over the glove of Brockport's goalie Justin Keene at 1:03 into overtime to give Norte Dame (9-8-3-1) a 4-3 victory.
Brockport (16-3-2) jumped to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Carlos Ross and Tyler Hill, but Notre Dame also scored two first-period goals, one by Johnston and the second by Versage on a penalty shot.
"This is the fifth time this season we’ve come back from a two-goal deficit, so the kids didn’t panic," Staley said. "I’m very proud of them for that. We just went about the game plan."
Brockport took the lead at 3-2 in the second period, but Notre Dame continued to skate tough and held the Blue Devils in check until Zach Blew managed to tap in a goal at 8:15 left in the third period to tie the score and set the stage for overtime.
"We played better as team and ran our systems better in the game than they did," Staley said. "That ultimately was the difference."
Being number one seed kind of worked against Brockport, Staley suggested.
"They were off for 10 days," Staley said. "They got a bye and sometimes that hurts you. You get a little flat. I think we took advantage of that layoff they had tonight."
This isn't the first time Notre Dame has entered the playoffs as the number-eight seed and still managed an upset victory.
"The last time Notre Dame was the eight seed was five years ago and we upset Canandaigua, which was the number-one seed at the time," Staley said. "We’re developing a little bit of a reputation as a giant killer."
Next up for Notre Dame, number-five seed Irondequoit, who beat the four seed, Canandaigua, on Friday, 6-4.
The hopes of a Batavia vs. Notre Dame final were dashed in Webster last night when the Blue Devils dropped their playoff game to Webster, 2-0.
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Connecticut got a chip shot 40 seconds into the championship game in Portland, Maine, this afternoon and the Batavia Ramparts spent nearly all of three periods chasing the lead.
The Ramparts lost 3-0.
Goal two for Connecticut was a rebound off the goalie, said coach John Zola.
Goal three came on an empty net play at the end of the game.
"Everyone played their heart out," Zola said. "Both teams played very, very hard."
The coach said he doesn't believe a Batavia team has ever advanced as far as the Ramparts did this season. At the age level of the Ramparts, the northeast regional championship would have been as far as they could have advanced.