The Pennsbury Falcons rode their fifth seed to the program’s first Flyers Cup in Class AA. Photos courtesy of Tracy Valko and Pennsbury Ice Hockey. To view a complete gallery, click on the following link: https://solsports.zenfolio.com/f1064915949
By Mary Jane Souder
They’ve got talent, and they’ve got game.
There’s no mistaking this year’s Pennsbury ice hockey squad had plenty of both, but so did a whole lot of other teams. Ask the players the key to their historic run to the program’s first Flyers Cup at the AA classification, and there’s a recurring theme.
“We have a group – all of us have heart,” senior Justin Marlin said. “We all know we can win if we play well. We’re resilient.
“Some people called it a Cinderella run, which it kind of was. We had to play Conestoga, who was a four seed, (Council Rock South), which was one, and then Pennridge, who was two. Our team has heart. That’s all we talked about all year was how much heart we have. No other team had heart like us.”
“Heart is exactly what it was – 100 percent,” senior Brendan MacAinsh said. “The Conestoga game, the CR South game and the championship game against Pennridge – we were battling from behind in all three of them.
“The CR South game was 4-1 with five minutes left in the second (period). Nobody’s head was hung down. Everybody was still in it because we were getting opportunities and they saw that, and they never gave up. I couldn’t thank those guys enough for that.”
It sounds so simple, so basic, so obvious, but it’s that intangible that separates the best from the rest, and Pennsbury was the best when it mattered most, winning the Flyers Cup as the tournament’s fifth seed.
“It’s been awesome,” coach Ryan Daley said. “It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime – hopefully, not once in a lifetime, but that’s what it feels like.”
For Daley, the experience has been especially unique.
“I’ve been in the program myself since I was five,” he said. “Pennsbury used to have a DVHL (Delaware Valley Hockey League) program for minor hockey which is where I started. My first year playing was in 1999.
“There was never a year I didn’t play. By the time our minor club program went away, I was in middle school, so I was already playing middle school and then high school after that.
“My mom (Lois Daley) ran the program for I don’t know how long – probably for as long as I was in it plus some. The program is near and dear to my heart and my family’s. We have had some good teams in the past. I played on some really good teams in high school.
“I was saying to my assistant, Mike (Hlatky), who I played with in high school – when we were playing, a state championship was never even on our mind. Not that we couldn’t compete for one, but we had such bad luck in the Flyers Cup that all we wanted to do was win a couple of rounds in the Flyers Cup, let alone win a state championship. As a coach, I kind of still had that same mindset, but this year completely blew through the ceiling that I thought we had and made me realize – it is obtainable, and we’re pretty close to it. It’s pretty awesome.”
There were only four seniors on this year’s squad – Marlin, MacAinsh, Andrew Falkenstein and back-up goalie Connor Pila. MacAinsh was Flyers Cup Tournament MVP, Marlin was the tournament’s top scorer, and Falkenstein was named to the all-tournament team.
“It was good to play with them this year considering we went so far with this talented group,” junior Logan Doyle said. “Everyone was doubting us because we were the fifth seed. We weren’t supposed to make it that far, but we held our heads high, and we kept it going. We wanted to prove everyone wrong.”
An improbable journey
It was a journey they admit they didn’t anticipate taking. Especially after falling to top-seeded Council Rock South for the third time this season in the SHSHL Tournament title game (4-2), but winning a Flyers Cup was definitely on the wish list.
“Us seniors were the first team to win the SHSHL championship (in 2020-21), so definitely the Flyers Cup was next on our list, and we only had this year to do it,” Marlin said. “Losing to South in the SHSHL championship this year, it definitely killed us mentally – ‘We just lost to them, we don’t know if we’re going to win it.’”
Added, MacAinsh, “I definitely would have thought winning the Flyers Cup was a stretch because I knew the previous years what it took to get there. We were always missing something. There was always one bad period or one bad bounce that cost us.
“I thought for sure we were going to win the SHSHL. That was my beginning goal. We made it to that title game, and we lost, but I was like ‘I don’t see any other teams that would be better than Council Rock South.' I really thought we could do it in the Flyers Cup.”
The odds were not stacked in their favor as the fifth seed with a road to the top that was a minefield. They needed overtime to defeat fourth-seeded Conestoga 5-4 in an opening round game.
“We had to beat three of the teams in the top five,” MacAinsh said. “In the Conestoga game, that goalie stood on his head.
“I was getting shut down the whole game, but our other players like Andrew (Falkenstein), Justin (Marlin) and Logan Doyle stepped up. Their defense was really strong. To take that game in overtime – one goal, and the season would have been over. It was nice that we were able to dig deep and pull out that one.”
The Falcons had to dig even deeper in their Flyers Cup semifinal game against Rock South. The game did not start out on a promising note as the Falcons trailed 4-1 early in the second period.
“They got three quick goals, and we were like – we have to battle back,” MacAinsh said.
And battle back they did, rallying to knot the score 4-4 after two periods and going on to win 7-5.
The Falcons went on to defeat defending Flyers Cup and state champion Pennridge 5-3 in the SHSHL title game.
“That was awesome, especially as a senior,” Marlin said. “I loved seeing how happy our team was and seeing how much the hard work paid off – it was great.”
“It was unreal,” MacAinsh said. “It’s our first Flyers Cup in AA class for Pennsbury. I know that my sophomore year we were able to win the first SHSHL trophy for Pennsbury.
“Getting to do that – especially being the first to do that was really special. Teams like Pennridge and Council Rock South have done it recently, but we haven’t done it in God knows how long. Being able to be a leader of that team to go and do it was awesome.”
The final chapter
As a result of their Flyers Cup win, the Falcons earned a trip to Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh to compete for the PA State Cup against a South Fayette squad that won the Penguins Cup.
“Flyers Cup was our goal at the time, that was our main goal,” Marlin said. “It was at the top of the list, and we achieved that. State championship was next, but at the end of the day, we just wanted to win Flyers Cup, and it was awesome that we got to do that.”
“We won the Flyers Cup, and the state championship was like a bonus,” MacAinsh said. “The Flyers Cup was really the big thing.”
The Falcons came close, falling 7-4 in a contest that came down to the wire. The two teams were deadlocked 4-4 with three minutes remaining when South Fayette scored a goal that turned out to be the game winner. The next came with the Falcons pushing up and the final was an empty net goal.
“Obviously, you win the Flyers Cup and you’re going to be like – now let’s try to win the state championship game, so that still hit hard especially since how close we were to winning that, tied with three minutes left,” MacAinsh. “I thought we were going to pull through. It was another game where we were down 4-2 and came back and tied it.”
Despite the outcome, it was a memorable experience.
“It was awesome,” Marlin said. “It was definitely an experience I’ll remember forever. I had never gone anywhere far with my high school team, so taking a trip to Pittsburgh – we bonded.
“It was a great experience for the team. We had practice the night before We were treated awesome. The outcome wasn’t there, but it was still a great experience. We gave them a game too – it was tied with five minutes left in the third.”
“It was amazing,” Doyle said. “It was a cool experience to be there. Win or lose, it was cool to go up there and see a different environment for high school hockey. It was a really good experience.”
After their team’s run to the state title game, the Falcons were honored at a Philadelphia Flyers game, and MacAinsh, Marlin and Falkenstein traveled to Maple Grove, Minn., to compete in the 2023 Youth Tier 18U 3A National Championships where their Philadelphia Blazers team finished third.
“That’s not what we wanted especially after losing the state championship, but you have to look at the positives – we came that far with high school and club. It was honestly really cool.”
As part of their recent Senior Night game against Neshaminy, the Falcons held their Annual Lois Daley Memorial Cup Pink Out game in memory of coach Ryan Daley’s mother.
“It was definitely a fun game, a charity game playing our rival Neshaminy,” Marlin said. “We ended up winning, which is even better.”
“It was a good game to end on,” MacAinsh said. “It was a charity game for our coach’s mom. Being able to win that and end off a career like that - all the seniors had a great game. It’s good to know we ended on something like that.”
The season may be over, but this year’s Pennsbury team – most notably its seniors – leave behind a quite a legacy.
“It’s hard not to be redundant,” Daley said. “A guy like Brendan MacAinsh, our captain, had an incredible year. He’s a very impactful player obviously skill-wise, but I think also it goes back to the last couple of years with kids that have already graduated showing the way and showing these guys how to be leaders.
“Last year out senior captain Shane Siegmund was a huge influence on all the guys that are still on the team and on Brendan on how to lead a team and be a captain. I think this year more than any year – the team realized how much support they were starting to generate from alumni and the interest everyone finally started giving the program, which was well deserved. They’re the team that got it done but a lot of people factored into it. It’s pretty cool.”
MacAinsh had played on Siegmund’s line since he was a freshman.
“That kid – Shane Siegmund – had the heart,” MacAinsh said. “He showed that throughout the whole team, and that was my goal this year – to show them that we’re here to battle. We don’t give up. Shane showed me that - he was always that kind of player, and that influenced me.
Daley pointed to Reece Millman as providing the same kind of example for Marlin.
“Just how Brendan learned from Shane – I think Justin learned a lot from Reece Millman who was a stellar defenseman for four years and Justin got to play with him for three,” the Falcons’ coach said. “He took the reins right from him and had an insane senior year, he was a really good leader.”
“Reece was definitely someone I looked up to as a player and a leader,” Marlin said. “The way he could slow down the game, change the tempo and even the score of the game was one of a kind. He led by example and would give me pointers to make me a better player.
“With him leaving, he set the bar high for me as I knew I was the next leader on the blue line. I really tried to mimic my game off him this year, slowing down the game, making that great defensive play or even giving that sweet pass or firing one past the goalie. I definitely would say I filled his shoes as we went to the SHSHL championship, won the Flyers Cup and went to the state championship. Just wish he could’ve been part of it all.”
Doyle is one of the players who will be looked to fill a leadership role with the graduation of this year’s seniors.
“Logan is a junior and likely will be our captain next year,” Daley said. “He got an assistant captain letter his sophomore year. I’ve always tried to have an underclassman have a letter on our team, and almost everyone that I’ve given a letter to as a sophomore ended up having the C on their chest senior year.
“Logan’s a great player. He might not be putting up 60 points like Brendan, but he’s a classic power forward, really physical, leads by example, sets the tone. He was really important this year, and he’s going to be very important to us for next year. I’m excited to see his senior year that’s for sure.”
For his part, Doyle is looking forward to the challenge.
“If I’m the captain, I want to do the same thing (the seniors) did – make everyone feel comfortable on the team to where we can put all our dedication into next year like we did this year and hopefully make it far again,” Doyle said.
Next year MacAinsh – who is undecided – will play club hockey at the collegiate level or take a gap year and play junior hockey. Marlin and Falkenstein have another year of eligibility with the Blazers, and there’s no doubt that ice hockey will be an important part of their future.
There’s also no doubt they will never forget being part of a Falcons’ squad that put its name in the program record books.
“People say don’t take it for granted, and I’m obviously not,” Marlin said. “It was honestly so special, especially for us seniors and then seeing all the younger guys win it – taking that in is something I’ll remember forever.”
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