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UTICA, N.Y. — On the 20th anniversary of its lone state title, Suffern's hockey squad did it again.
The Mounties (21-2-3) outscored Section 5's Pittsford (23-3) 2-0 in the third period en route to a 3-2 comeback win in Sunday's NYS Division 1 championship game at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
“It was a long time coming from '92,” Suffern senior captain John Redgate said.
After losing a pair of one-goal heartbreakers the previous two years in the state semis, the Mounties finally broke through with an epic shootout win over rival West Genesee on Saturday. Like the 1980 U.S. olympic team, Suffern took care of business in its next game.
“The thing is we learned so much from those past two teams,” said Redgate, who was named co-NYS D1 Player of the Year along with West Genesee's RJ Tinkelpaugh. “We took so much from them and brought it in this year. All the experience the past two years — that's what it was. We had been here and had that experience.”
Fellow senior forward Willie Sanchez provided the heroics, breaking a 2-2 tie with 11:51 left in the third period. Sanchez, who also scored in the semis, split a pair of Pittsford defenders to chase down the puck and beat goalie Luke Loveys (24 saves) with a pretty move on the ensuing breakaway.
“As soon as I saw there was a race for the puck, I knew there was no way anyone was going to stop me from getting it,” said Sanchez, who was named to the all-state first team.
While Sanchez came through in the clutch, teammate Steve Scholer was a dominant presence throughout. The versatile center/defenseman bagged a pair of goals to help Suffern overcome a 2-0 first-period deficit. Pittsford's Nino DiPasquale lit the lamp just 14 seconds into the opening period and Brad Sherman's long-range wrist shot found the back of the net at the 2:14 mark.
“As long as we came back hard, we knew we could win the game,” Scholer said. “There was a lot of hockey to play.”
Scholer made good on his word, finding the back of the net with 1:02 left in the first period to trim the deficit to 2-1. He scored the goal on a vicious slap shot that dislodged Loveys' gatorade bottle from the roof of the net. Sanchez was credited with the assist.
“I knew I had a defenseman on my right side, so I didn't have time to make a move and deke the goalie out,” said Scholer, who was named MVP of the tournament. “I just took the shot and it was lucky that it went in.”
According to Redgate, it had absolutely nothing to do with luck.
“I've been saying all year long that (Scholer) is the greatest player in the state,” Redgate said. “He definitely showed it today. It was the best performance I've ever seen him have and I've been on his team the past six or seven years. That's the way a captain steps up. He played amazing.”
Scholer tallied the equalizer just 32 seconds into the third period on a wicked wrist shot that tucked just inside the near post.
“I saw the goalie was a little more on the right side so I tried to go near post and I got the bounce,” Scholer said, detailing the goal.
At that point, the Mounties had all the momentum in the world. It was only a matter of time before they took the lead for good.
Following Sanchez's go-ahead goal, Suffern batten down the hatches and white-knuckled the lead with both hands. A Pittsford penalty with 4:40 to go in regulation certainly helped matters, as the Mounties had a few chances to sneak in a game-sealing goal.
In a last-ditch effort, the Panthers pulled their goalie inside the final two minutes. When the clock finally read zeroes, Suffern's large contingent of fans let out a collective sigh of relief.
And it almost seemed like they had been holding it in for 20 long years.
“This is for all the seniors we lost with last couple years and all the pain they had to go through,” Sanchez said. “We are sharing this with everybody. It's the team's — but it's Suffern's state championship.”
Prior to accepting the state title plaque, Mounties coach Rob Schelling addressed the rapt crowd in the stands.
“There's a place downstate called Suffern,” Schelling said, “and it is the best place in the world.”
GAME NOTES: Suffern's Willie Sanchez finished the year with a team-high 57 points (30G, 27A) … Suffern is still the only Section 1 team to have won a state title … Prior to this year, the last Section 1 team to compete in a NYS D1 final was Mamaroneck in 2009. The Tigers lost to Greece Athena/Odyssey, 3-2 … Suffern's Steve Scholer was named MVP of the tournament and was selected to the all-tournament team with teammates Anthony Carudo, Tyler Stark and Sanchez … Suffern's John Redgate was named co-NYS D1 Player of the Year with West Genesee's RJ Tinkelpaugh … Redgate, Sanchez and Stark were all named to the all-state first team.
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Suffern overcomes slow start: It wasn't really a surprise that Suffern was slow out of the gate. After all, the Mounties were coming off a four-overtime epic against West Genesee in the semis on Saturday. And they even lost an hour of rest due to daylights savings time. In the end, it didn't even matter. Suffern — which fell into an early 2-0 first-period hole — awakened over the final two periods of play. The Mounties, who were outshot 8-7 in the opening period, bounced back to outshoot Pittsford 20-14 over the final two periods.
“Four overtime periods can do that to you,” John Redgate said of the slow start. “Pittsford jumped on us early, but that was their one wave. After that we started slowing down their storm and it was our game to take.”
2. Stark a standout once again: Suffern goalie Tyler, who was named to the all-tournament team and all-state first team, had another impressive outing. He made 20 big saves and blanked Pittsford over the final 32 minutes and 14 seconds of the game. Stark made a combined 60 saves in the two tournament wins.
“Unbelievable,” Redgate said, trying to explain Stark's two-game run of dominance. “I have no words for that kid. He was our MVP stopping 40 yesterday and who knows how many today.”
3. Scholer to the rescue: Suffern's Steve Scholer played almost exclusively on defense prior to this season. He started playing up front at center more this year to give the Mounties more of a punch on offense. Well, he landed a knockout blow against Pittsford. Remarkably, it was Scholer's first multi-goal game of the year.
“Big-time players step up in big-time games — and he's a big-time player,” teammate Willie Sanchez said.
Suffern (21-2-3) 1 0 2 3
Pittsford (23-2) 2 0 0 2
PF (11:56) Nino DiPasquale from Marc Weyl | 1-0 PF
PF (2:14) Brad Sherman unassisted | 2-0 PF
SF (1:02) Steve Scholer from Willie Sanchez | 2-1 PF
SF (14:28) Scholer from Redgate | 2-2
SF (11:51) Sanchez unassisted | 3-2 SF
* Indicates power play goal
Suffern: Steve Scholer (2G); Willie Sanchez (1G, 1A); John Redgate (1A)
Pittsford: Nino DiPasquale (1G); Brad Sherman (1G); Marc Weyl (1A);
Suffern: Tyler Stark (20 saves)
Pittsford: Luke Loveys (24 saves)
Suffern 7 14 6 27
Pittsford 8 7 7 22
Email Isaac Cass at Icass@cablevision.com | Follow him on Twitter @MSGV_Icass