Armstrong hockey loses state title game in 5 overtimes

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Saturday, March 24, 2018 | 7:12 PM


WEST CHESTER — The Armstrong hockey program waited 27 years to return to the Pennsylvania Class AA state title game.

Upon arrival, it had to wait again — through eight periods and more than 90 minutes of hockey before a winner could be declared Saturday at Ice Line Quad Rinks in West Chester.

Thus it seemed especially cruel to the Riverhawks when that winner was Downingtown East, claiming its second consecutive Class AA championship 3-2 on Ryan Prestayko's goal 2 minutes, 34 seconds into the fifth overtime.

The five overtimes were a state championship record, little consolation to Armstrong, which concluded a great season that featured its first Penguins Cup since 1991 — when the school was called Armstrong Central, before splitting into Kittanning and Ford City — at a record of 19-4.

“I feel that my team can play with anybody,” said Armstrong coach Lee Grafton, who was part of the last Penguins Cup championship team as an eighth grader (though he couldn't take part in the playoffs.) “I have felt that way all year, and I was confident coming into this game.”

“You knew somebody had to win, somebody had to lose … I just wish it had gone the other way.”

Eleven seniors played their final game for the Riverhawks.

“It's hard because our goal was to win the state championship,” Grafton said. “But the first Penguins Cup title in 27 years for our school … our players should be very proud of themselves.”

Luca Pisani got the Eastern representatives off on the right foot, making the game's first shot count at 2:55 for a 1-0 Downingtown East lead.

Armstrong needed only about five minutes to respond as senior forward Easton Hooks fired a shot from just inside the blue line past East goalie Matt Shandler to knot the score. A fairly even period saw Armstrong come away with slightly higher-quality scoring chances and a 9-4 edge in shots on goal.

Downingtown East got the game's first power play early in the second period, but the teams went to 4-on-4 after East's Pisani took an interference penalty to thwart a short-handed breakaway opportunity. Twenty-seven seconds later, Armstrong captain Jacob Gross struck to give the Riverhawks a 2-1 advantage.

In the meantime, the stifling Armstrong defense was busy holding Downingtown East to one shot on net over a 15-minute stretch of play that started after the Riverhawks' first goal. Downingtown's best opportunity was called back when the net came off its moorings a split second before a Dan Stankiewicz wrist shot found the twine.

When East did break the slump, it did so in grand fashion as Jack Barton redirected Max McAllister's point blast past Armstrong's Ryan Bowser, making the score 2-2 a little more than halfway through the period.

Bowser bounced back quickly, robbing Mike Bolger from the slot and turning away an Eric Stankiewicz blast on the power play just before the teams headed to the locker rooms.

From there, the teams battled through more than an hour's worth of hockey — with everything on the line.

Both goalies turned in yeoman efforts: Armstrong's Bowser turned away 43 shots, and Shandler had 50 saves for Downingtown East.

“All I told my players is that I'm proud of them,” Grafton said. “They gave it everything they had today. We just didn't want to see our season end like this.”

On the other side, coach David Hendricks expressed compassion for Grafton and the Riverhawks, fully acknowledging how easily the roles could've been reversed.

“(Armstrong) has a heck of a team, and they played a great game,” he said. “There comes a time as a coach where you can't do much but tell your players, ‘We need to make a play.' ”

Class AAA

Saint Joseph's Prep 4, Seneca Valley 0 — Marc Colavita scored three times, and Tyler Boucher added an unassisted power play goal to lift Flyers Cup champion Saint Joseph's Prep to a victory over Penguins Cup champion Seneca Valley in the Class AAA state title game at Ice Line Rink in West Chester.

Seneca Valley was outshot 34-19. Logan Johnson made 30 saves in the loss.

Class A

Bayard Rustin 4, Bishop McCort 1 — Nicholas Ferraro had two goals and Ian Strasinski and Justin Demyan added goals as Flyers Cup champion Bayard Rustin won the Class A Pennsylvania Cup Saturday afternoon at Ice Line Rink in West Chester.

Joel Keller made 22 saves to secure the win.

Brett Seitz scored on assists from Alexander Komov and Aliaksei Kostserau, and Cole Bradley stopped 24 shots for Bishop McCort.

Rob Senior is a freelance writer.

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