HATFIELD— A late surge got La Salle over the finish line. The Explorers scored three times in the third period Thursday night to score a 5-3 decision over Holy Ghost Prep in a Class AAA Flyers Cup semifinal at Hatfield Ice. The Explorers (10-4), the second seed in the tournament, will face top-seeded Malvern Prep Monday at Ice Line (8:15 start) in the title game.
Michael Casey scored two goals in the third period, including the game winner, and assisted on the the third. He noted that Thursday’s effort was quite a turnaround from the Explorers’ subpar, albeit winning performance against Father Judge in Tuesday’s quarterfinal.
“We did not play good our first game,” Casey said. “We got the win but it wasn’t good enough. We knew Ghost was going to give us a way harder game.”
The first half of the opening period was a feeling out process, akin to two fighters sizing each other up in the early rounds of a championship bout. Holy Ghost Prep struck first when Brian Butler made a run down left wing to set up Sean Marshall for the game’s first goal at the 10:23 mark. ‘
La Salle got a chance to respond when the Firebirds’ E.J. Pohl was whistled for slashing at 13:35. It took the Explorers just seven seconds to take advantage. Max Maddalo scored the goal with help from Keenan Schneider.
The Explorers took their first lead when Dan Whittock scored with just 53 seconds remaining in the period.
Holy Ghost Prep answered with a power-play goal 6:07 into the second frame, when Anthony Sparo scored from long range. It turned out to be the only goal of the period. After a break for the ice to be resurfaced, the teams returned, one period away from the final, or one period from elimination.
“We basically said it had to be one of our best periods of the season,” Casey said. “We had to go out there and go hard. We had to put more shots in the net; we weren’t generating enough shots,”
Casey scored what proved to be the winning goal 7:09 into the third frame when he rocketed a shot from the slot that beat Firebird netminder Bobby Baehser. He set up David Kimmel for an insurance goal at 9:11.
Holy Ghost Prep (7-7) had a last -ditch opportunity when the Maddalo drew a holding penalty with 4:45 left in regulation but 34 seconds later Whittock and the Firebirds’ Evan Mudrick squared off.
Each received a minor penalty for head contact plus an automatic 10-minute misconduct. After the two players reached the penalty box, Mudrick received a game misconduct as well.
Casey scored into an empty net with 1:20 remaining before Jake Marek scored for Holy Ghost Prep with 41 seconds left.
Firebird coach Gump Whiteside praised his team’s effort. “I thought that was one of the best games of the year for us,” he said. “I really liked our mentality coming into the game. “I’m just so proud of these kids.”
The Firebirds had a 40 shots to La Salle’s 24 but Liam Gross in the Explorer net stopped 37 of them. Ironically, Gross nearly had to leave the game with 7:16 left in the third period because of a problem with one of his skates but La Salle head coach Wally Muehlbronner used his timeout and the situation was resolved.
“It was a great team win,” Muehlbronner said. “Ghost really took it to us for a good portion of that game. We had tremendous goaltending from Gross and a pretty darn good performance out of MIke Casey.”
Notes: Both teams in Monday’s final will be seeking their 12th Flyers Cup title. Monday’s game will not be considered the Atlantic Prep athletic Conference championship game. APAC Commissioner Jim Britt that game, which will also match La Salle and Malvern Prep, will hopefully be scheduled at a later date following the state championship game.
Holy Ghost Prep 1 1 1—3
LaSalle 2 0 3—5
First-period goals: Sean Marshall (HGP) from Brian Butler, 10:28; Max Maddalo L) from Keenan Schneider, 13:42 (pp) Dan Whittock (L) from David Kimmel, 16:07
Second-period goals: Anthony Sparo (HGP) from Landon Stout, 6:07 (pp)
Third-period goal: Michel Casey (L) from Keenan Schneider, 7:09; Jake Kimmel (L) from Casey, 9:11; Casey (L) unassisted, 15:40 (en); Jake Marek (HGP) from Eric Pohl, 16:19
Shots: Holy Ghost Prep 40, La Salle 24; Saves: Bobby Baehser (HGP) 19; Liam Gross (L) 37