By Mitch Silver
Conventional wisdom says it’s hard to beat the same team three times in a season. For a hockey team, it’s especially hard when you’ve run up a three-goal margin in the other guy’s rink. But that was 75 days ago. So Rye Country Day went into Saturday’s Fairchester Athletic Association championship game facing two foes: St. Luke’s and over-confidence.
“We stressed that point beforehand,” said first-year coach Brett Farson, whose team beat his former squad, the King School, by 7-2 in the semifinals. “But after a 20-game schedule, the boys know what it takes to play at the top of their abilities. I wasn’t too worried.”
The same wasn’t true of the Wildcat fans lining the rink, especially when the Storm stormed back with four minutes left in the second period to tie up the title game 1-1 on a Will Foster power-play goal, nullifying a Jeffrey Chen score three minutes earlier. Worse for the worrywarts in the crowd, Wildcat ninth grader Shane Holmes almost immediately took a charging penalty and senior captain Frank Tedeschi was sent to the sin bin right after that one was killed, meaning the locals would start the final period down a man.
Did the coach launch into a tirade in the Country Day locker room? Did he throw things? “Hardly,” Farson said. “We just reminded the kids that we prefer to play the game 5 on 5.”
And, after killing the Tedeschi penalty, that’s just what the Wildcats did, going penalty-free the rest of the way. Not so the Storm. When they were caught holding with nine and a half minutes left in the contest, the Rye power play swung into action. Eight seconds later, Tedeschi fed assist leader Jesse LeFebvre, whose effort wound up on the stick of junior Will Dodge, the team’s leading scorer on the season. Dodge slammed his 26th goal of the campaign past Storm keeper Evan Ruschil for the 2-1 lead.
St. Luke’s must not have preferred to play 5 on 5, because they took another penalty with 4:28 left on the clock. That’s when Farson called time out. “We just wanted to remind the kids to protect that puck. Go for the clinching goal, but don’t get caught in deep.”
He needn’t have worried. The home side played airtight hockey the rest of the way. And when St. Luke’s pulled their goalie with 90 seconds left, Tedeschi saw his opening. He fed the team’s points leader Chen for his second goal of the final, an empty netter that would put the cup in the hands of the Grandview Gang for the first time since 2014.
“When I came to Rye Country Day,” the coach said later, “I found a bunch of kids with a love of hockey. And five goalies — what a luxury! Senior Eddie Massaro was our leader back there. He won 10 games out of the 13 he played, including the biggie. I think he gave up just four goals total in his last four games.”
“But Massaro wasn’t our only Steady Eddie in goal. Junior Eddie Abrams won seven out of eight with an under-two goals-against average on the season. His .941 save percentage is absolutely astounding. So, with all the ninth- and tenth-graders who earned quality minutes this year, I think we’ll be all right going forward.”
Taking home the hardware means seniors Tedeschi, Chen, LeFebvre, Massaro, and stalwart defenseman Alex Berger will be all right going forward as well.