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Speed keys McQuaid Jesuit past Massena In New York State Final Four

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UTICA – Outstanding team speed outlasted a physical approach as Massena Central dropped a 5-1 decision to Section 5 champion McQuaid Jesuit in the semi-finals of the New York State Division I playoffs on Saturday at the Utica Aud.

“Give Massena credit. They had a very good game plan coming in. They were banging us around and at first it was baffling to our guys. We told our kids to just keep skating. They did and that’s how we were able to turn things around,” said coach Al Vyverberg after his squad earned a chance to play for the state title by steadily pulling away from the Raiders over the final 19 minutes of regulation.

The Knights will now gear up to face Section 2 champion Saratoga in the Division I final this afternoon. Saratoga, the only high school team out of the eight competing at the Utica Aud this weekend that returns after an appearance in the 2012 final four, skated to a 4-1 win over Section 6 champion Niagara Wheatfield in the other Division I semi-final on Saturday.

“They are a very good team. They play fast, efficient hockey and we knew we’d have our hands full today,” noted Massena coach Mike Trimboli, who guided the Raiders to their first trip to Utica since they won the state title in 2008.

“Nobody expected us to go as far as we did this season and I thought we played well the first half of the game. As the game wore on though, we weren’t able to get any sustained pressure in the offensive zone and once we fell behind, we started to lose our composure,” he added. “This was a tough way to end the year but it doesn’t take away from what has been a successful season for us.”

After an evenly-played first period that produced no scoring, the Raiders broke through for the opening goal just 2:39 into the second when freshman Patrick Manning forechecked the puck away from a McQuaid defender in the right corner and slid it back up the wing to sophomore linemate Dalton Mullin, who quickly sent a pass across the slot to classmate Ryan Moffitt who made no mistake one-timing it into the back of the net from the left side of the crease.

“Giving up that first goal actually motivated us even more,” noted Vyverberg as the Knights kept the Raiders from gaining any further momentum then turned the game in their favor with a pair of goals in the final four minutes of the middle frame.

Ben Koppiel tied the game at 11:17 with a breakaway goal set up when the puck was knocked away from teammate Christian Leonardi as he broke into the offensive zone. The eventual game-winning goal came at the 13:54 mark when back-to-back close range saves by junior netminder Connor Paquin triggered a wild scramble on the left side of the crease that ended with Ryan Tallo stuffing home a rebound.

The third period started with the Raiders generated a pair of good scoring opportunities but were unable to produce the equalizer as McQuaid netminder Brian Quick neatly turned aside a deflection attempt by Moffitt at the top of the slot and calmly stuff Moffitt on a breakaway down the left wing.

Shortly after the breakaway stop, the Knights went ahead 3-1 when Jack Dugan snapped a wristshot into the top left of the goal at the 5:02 mark. Four minutes later, Tallo one-timed a pass across the top of the slot from the right into the upper right corner. Nate Pennington sealed the win when he netted a power play goal off an assist from Leonardi with 3:51 left in regulation.

“We’ve been able to play four lines all year and all four lines have produced for us,” noted Vyverberger after his team improved to 19-5-1 heading into this afternoon’s title game. “I thought that made a big difference in the third period. We seemed to have more fresh legs than Massena did.”

After handling all 10 shots he faced in the first period, Kick was only counted on to make seven more saves the rest of the game in backstopping the win while Paquin finished with 23 saves working the Raider crease.

“Connor was still a difference for us today even though we gave up five goals. He made some big saves when the game was still close,” said Trimboli after the Raiders closed out the season at 15-7-1.

“We’re going to loss some quality seniors but we had a very young team this year and we have the potential to be successful again next season,” he added.

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