By RYNE R. MARTIN
BRASHER FALLS - The St. Lawrence Central hockey team is headed back to Utica for the first time in five years, and the winning goal came from an unlikely hero.
Sophomore Luke Peets and his red line only saw three shifts Saturday, but they made the most of an opportunity after an unsuccessful Larries powerplay scoring the winning goal in the Larries 3-1 victory over a Webster Thomas team that had only one loss on their record prior to their trip to the Tri-Town Community Center.
Coach Mickey Locke, who employs five forwards on his powerplay unit, needed a respite with the bulk of his fist two lines gassed after an unsuccessful powerplay and a face off deep in the Titans zone.
Peets got the puck in the faceoff circle and fired a wrister that beat Webster-Thomas netminder Steve Speis, who had pitched shutouts seven times this season including in his last two outings in sectional play, short side.
I just got the puck and shot it. I wasnt aiming. I just trying to get it on net. I saw the net move, and I just went nuts, the sophomore forward recalled.
Linemate Nick Kowalchuk drew the lone assist on the game winner with 1:34 to go in the second period. Nick did a good job of tying up their center on the draw, and the puck was just lying there, Peets added.
He said his lines responsibility is simple when they are on the ice. Our job is to trap em and dont get any goals scored against us. They dont expect us to score. If you would have said I would have scored the gamewinner to me this morning, I would have said you were nuts, Peets acknowledged.
The Titans, Section VI champions, quieted the capacity plus crowd just 30 seconds into the game when a puck bounced off an official and created a perfectly executed two on one break that saw Nick Tipping fire a Teddy McCabe feed past Larries netminder Nate McLaughlin.
Webster-Thomas Coach David Evans wanted his team to get a strong start in the Larries home rink. We knew there was going to be a lot of energy in the building. I thought we played well in the first period, and we got the momentum. Their goalie made some nice saves, and we missed the net twice. I thought St. Lawrence got their legs under them in the second, he said.
Senior Blake Baldwin tied the score midway through the second period off a scramble a minute into a Larries powerplay. A shot from the corner rolled off the goalies shoulder and onto the goalline, and the Larries senior forward was able to push it over the red line at the 6:52 mark. Kody Kocsis and Devin Euto were credited with assists.
It came off the hard forecheck. The puck went into the crease behind the goalie, and me and Ian (Lynch) were right there diving and slapping at it, Baldwin said.
St. Lawrence Central Coach Mickey Locke said he wasnt surprised to see his team battle back after falling behind in the games first minute. Part of our game plan was to force the issue and establish an edge in the play. But on the first shift we get an unfortunate break, and they end up with a two on one. But this group handles adversity very well. This group probably handles adversity as well as any team Ive been involved with, the veteran St. Lawrence Central coach said.
The go ahead goal by Peets, his first of the season, gave a Larries team that was routinely rolling two lines and three defensemen - spotting a fourth defenseman - an extra boost of energy heading into the third period. I think we were definitely surprised when the red line scored that goal. Its incredible. That gave us a lot of momentum going into the third, according to sophomore Lukas Arquiett, the Larries leading scorer.
Locke acknowledged he had some concerns entering the third period playing a team that had rolled three lines against his teams two lines for 30 minutes. I was a little concerned how we would respond from that stretch from 12 minutes to 7 minutes to go in the period. We had expended so much energy in the second period with our forecheck, forecheck, forecheck. I thought if we could get to the 7 minute mark we could gut it out, he said.
Kocsis nearly gave his team a two-goal lead 50 seconds into the final stanza when he fired a shot from his knees after being pulled down as he burst down the slot, but the Titans netminder made a quality glove save.
Webster-Thomas poured on the pressure in the latter stages of the third period and moved the puck well on a man advantage when the Larries were whistled for a too many men on the ice call with 3:14 to go in regulation time. But the Larries, behind strong play from McLaughlin in the net, were able to kill off the penalty, and then sacrificed bodies, with Baldwin and Eric Lynch dropping to the ice to block shots, as the Titans made a frantic push with the goalie pulled to tie the game at 2-2.
Our coach has been telling us all season to block shots. Today we blocked a lot of shots. Its good because there were a couple that might have snuck in if we didnt get bodies on them, senior forward Ian Lynch said.
He sealed the win when he gained the puck in neutral ice and fired a long slot on the ice into the middle of the empty net with 11 seconds left on the clock. The puck was just sitting there at center ice, and I fired it at the net. It was a pretty cool feeling to know you were going to win the game, put the other team away, he said.
Speis finished with 29 saves for the Titans, and McLaughlin was credited with 30 stops. Ian Lynch said his classmate has stepped up his play in the playoffs.
McLaughlin also drew kudos from his coach, who credited his teams defensive effort. Nate was stellar in the net. He saw the puck real well tonight, and our kids are playing strong defensively in front of him, Locke said, speaking to the strong two-way play of his forwards and the work of a defensive corps that lost its most experienced blue liner to knee surgery late in the season. We also know we can score. We can be explosive at times.
Locke said he wasnt surprised to be making another trip to Utica as one of the four teams left alive in Division II after beating a quality opponent from the Rochester area.
We told them yesterday that we felt we had played teams during the regular season that were just as good as they were. This team is willing to do what it takes to have success. This game wasnt just gravy for us. I expected a really strong performance from our team. Now were in the Final Four, and well be as good as anyone there, he suggested.
Locke said he wished he could bring the crowd that filled the Tri-Town Community Center to the Utica Memorial Auditorium for the 12:30 p.m. Saturday faceoff against Section IIs John Jay (22-1-2), a 4-2 winner over Queensbury in Lake George in another regional matchup.
It was amazing in here today, senior defenseman Jarek Crump said. The fans were behind us 100 percent. It was crazy. It felt good to go out of our rink on a high note.
Peets was still remembering the sounds of the old barn when he gave the Larries the lead. It was awesome. It was the loudest Ive ever heard it, he said.
GAME NOTES - The win improves the Larries season record to 17-4-1... Several members of St. Lawrence Centrals senior class were members of the practice squad when the team last played in the state semi-finals. Blake Baldwin, then an eighth grader, skated a regular shift. .. Webster-Thomas has 9.000 students and 11 school buildings. St. Lawrence Central has just over 1,000 students and two school buildings... There will be a lot of state playoff action for hockey players in the Tri-Town area next weekend. The Tri-Town Timberwolves are scheduled to send its pee wee, bantam and midget teams to Tier III state tournaments next weekend. It means a lot of parents will be staring at maps between Amherst, where the minor hockey state tournaments are being held, and Utica and trying to figure out how to be two places at once.