Pennridge saw a successful season come to an end at the hands of Downingtown East in a Flyers Cup semifinal game Thursday at Ice Line.
#1 DOWNINGTOWN EAST 3, #4 PENNRIDGE 2
The Rams saw a successful season come to an end in Thursday’s semifinal round of the Flyers Cup, but they came oh so close to extending it even longer against the top-ranked Cougars, which made the ending harder to swallow.
“They played an absolutely phenomenal hockey game,” coach Jeff Montagna said. “They came within hitting a post with 30 seconds left (on a shot by Matthew Guinette) of taking that game to overtime. They had three other unbelievable chances in the last 40 seconds of that game – point blank chances to tie that game.
“It was a tough way to lose, but it was also one of those games where you’re so proud of them. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. They’re down 3-1 with five minutes left, get it to 3-2 and then just flurry for the last minute. It’s tough to lose that way when you have 12 seniors.”
The Rams would have been winners on most nights when they allowed just three goals, but this wasn’t most nights. The Ches-Mont League champions have been stingy all season on defense. In 12 conference games, they allowed just 26 goals.
“It’s not the same Downingtown East as years past in terms of their firepower, but they were still good,” Montagna said. “They won a really, really tough league down there. They had a little bit more depth than us, and in the end that kind of hurt us.”
The two teams exchanged goals in the opening period with Ryan Johnston (Theo Vela) connecting on a power play goal for the Cougars. Blake Stewart answered with a goal for the Rams, using assists from Eric Slater and Michael Walker.
The Cougars scored the only goal of the second period to go on top 2-1 when Nicholas Rosati scored with assists from Andrew Ceglia and Ryan Prestayko. They led 3-1 when Michael Bolger scored 10:45 into the third period. Two minutes later Eric Slater scored with a Stewart assist, and the Rams kept the pressure on but could not find the net.
Montagna had nothing but good things to say about his team’s effort.
“I asked them to play with no fear of failure,” he said. “They went out and they stared that team down, never blinked and just played. Where a lot of teams in that situation, the moment becomes too big for them. That didn’t happen, and that’s what made it awesome.”
Luke Stranick was once again outstanding in goal, turning away 31 of 34 shots he faced.
“Luke Stranick was phenomenal tonight,” Montagna said. “He’s on my club team, so I’ve had Luke for a couple of years outside of Pennridge. He barely has a pulse, and that’s a good thing for a goalie.
“He has been rock solid for us the entire year. We told him before the game – ‘You’re going to have to be great tonight. That’s the reality of this,’ and he accepted that, and he was incredible tonight, keeping us in that game. He had four or five just gigantic saves – the game could have gotten away from us pretty quick. He’s always on. This is what he does.”
Montagna lauded the standout effort of defensemen Matthew Guinette, Bryson Egan and Frankie Rota.
“They were asked to play a ton of minutes tonight,” the Rams’ coach said. “In games like this against good teams, you have to give it up to your defensemen.
“We talk about defense, defense, defense, and they kind of triggered all of that for us tonight.”
The Rams’ top line of Slater, Stewart and Michael Walker also received praise from Montagna.
“They’re always going to be there for us,” he said. “But really it started defensively tonight. When you give up only three goals to them, you’ve done your job.”
Montagna bids farewell to an outstanding senior class.
“You have a whole bunch of kids who have been playing together for a long time that came through the program,” the Rams’ second-year coach said. “What I told them after the game - the seniors created an expectation moving forward. You want to get the program to a place where it’s not a one-year thing.
“Obviously, we’ll have a big rebuilding year next year, but when you have that many seniors who have been together and get along with each other, it makes the job a heck of a lot easier when they have that camaraderie. Some of the guys have been together seven years now, going back to middle school.
That wealth of experience served Pennridge well this season.
“Having that many guys who have been in pressure spots like this or against CB South in the league championship or even the other night when we won in overtime – there’s not a whole lot of panic,” Montagna said. “They’ve been there, they’ve done that, they’ve played a lot of games together.
“There was no panic whatsoever, and to me, that was the biggest benefit of having that many seniors on that team. It’s not going to be easy next year, but we’re still returning seven guys that got varsity time this year at forward and one defenseman. There is some stuff in the pipeline, but you don’t replace 12 guys overnight.”
Thursday’s loss brought an end to a special season for a Pennridge squad that captured the SHSHL title and was one of the final four teams standing in the Flyers Cup.
“I told them after the game – ‘You’ll look back over the last two weeks for the rest of your life. Winning the league title for the first time in 10 years, beating North Penn in your last game home game at Hatfield in overtime,’” Montagna said. “The last two weeks – the players will take that with them forever. It was a great little run. All you can do is go out there and do what you do. If you do it right, you walk out with no regrets.”
For the 2018-19 Pennridge Rams, there were no regrets.
Pennridge 1-0-1 2
Downingtown East 1-1-1 3
Shots: Pennridge 26, Dtown East 34. Save: Luke Stranick (P) 31, Matthew Shandler (DE) 24.
First period: 1, Ryan Johnston DE (Theo Vela) 14:12; 2, Blake Stewart P (Eric Slater/Michael Walker) 16:24.
Second period: 3, Nicholas Rosati DE (Andrew Ceglia/Ryan Prestayko) 13:04.
Third period: 4, Michael Bolger DE, 10:45; 5, Eric Slater P (Blake Stewart) 12:36.