Kenny Ferrara and Shane Pues were freshmen on the last Long Beach hockey team to capture a Nassau County title.
The co-captains never expected it would take three more years to win another championship.
“Oh my God, no way. I thought we’d at least get one more,” Ferrara said. “It feels great. It feels amazing.”
After back-to-back years of losing in the Michelino Division finals, the Marines defeated Bellmore/Merrick, 6-2, to claim the county crown and sweep the series Wednesday night at the Town of Oyster Bay Rink.
“It means everything. I’m so proud of the guys,” Pues said. “This is our ultimate goal and it’s the first time in two years we were able to do it.”
Longtime Long Beach coach Joe Brand reminded his team of the last time they won a championship before the start of the series Monday night.
“I showed them a picture, a team picture from their freshman year and said, what do you say boys, its about time we win another one,” Brand said.
The response was unlike any he’s seen this year. A 6-5 win in Game 1 at Long Beach Arena had Brand believing this was a championship-caliber team.
“We had questions about certain parts of our game and how willing kids were at certain times and Monday night we saw a different team,” he said. “They finally showed us a group that could be competitive on the state level. That was the gutsiest performance this group had.”
On Wednesday, Long Beach (17-2), ranked No. 18 in the Tri-State by News 12 Varsity, fell behind, 1-0, on a snipe by Jake Gallitto less than two minutes into the second period.
But as they showed on Monday, the Marines had the response. It came five minutes later on a tying goal by Gordon Gerstner. Sean Niland and Pues added second-period goals to give the Marines a commanding 3-1 lead heading into the final 15 minutes.
Again Bellmore/Merrick (14-3-2), ranked No. 20 in the Tri-State by News 12 Varsity, scored early in a period as Jack Mitchell poked the puck into the net 1:37 into the third to pull the Bulldogs to within a goal.
Other Long Beach teams might have folded at that point, but these Marines just got stronger.
“We just kept our confidence throughout the entire game, didn’t get down on each other,” Ferrara said. “They scored and we stayed on top of each other. We kept our heads up, on the bench we were verbal.”
Doug Butler had the critical response less than two minutes later, Alec Rovitz had a wraparound goal and Luke Judge beat Bellmore/Merrick goaltender Sean Immel to a loose puck and tapped into the open net with 1:52 left to seal the win and a championship celebration three years in the waiting.
“We’re back on top,” Ferrara proclaimed.
The Marines now turn their attention on capturing a state title and will get to do so at Long Beach Arena.
“That’s awesome,” Ferrara said. “We’re lucky enough to have a great home rink in our hometown and lucky enough to host states.”