Wednesday, March 2, 2016

They say good things come to those who wait. For the Penn State Altoona ice hockey program, it took fourteen long years. And on Sunday night, at Center Ice Arena in Delmont, PA, that dream became a reality. PSU would earn their first ever CHE Championship with a 5-2 win over the Saint Vincent Bearcats. Both teams reached the finals after very successful seasons. PSU won the South Division title going unbeaten in the CHE Open Division and earned a first round bye in the playoffs. They would advance to the finals with a 10-5 victory over the CCAC Huskies. Saint Vincent finished second in the South Division, and their only CHE losses were to the Lions. They would advance to the championship game with a 7-1 win over Daemen and a 12-2 win over the North Division Champions Gannon. PSU entered the game with the leading points leader in the NCHA, sophomore Nico Gricco (66 points) and NCHA leading goal scorer, freshman Mitchell Rupprecht (25 goals). Saint Vincent also had highly touted senior forward Bryan Pustay (48 points), and runner up in the NCHA scoring race. And in net, for the Bearcats, one of the top goalies in the league, Shane Brudnok. During the regular season the Lions defeated Saint Vincent 10-2 and 4-2, but as any hockey fan knows, anything can happen in the playoffs. So the stage was set, the lineups introduced, and the National Anthem played, and it was time to drop the puck. PSU would dominate the early play, pinning Saint Vincent in their zone. Freshman Max Selverian would strike first for the Lions at 17:38 assisted by Lyons and Danese. PSU would continue to pepper Brudnok, and would expand their lead to 2-0 with a slap shot from freshman defenseman Nick Danese (Hagan and Pilla) at 2:13. at the end of the first, PSU out shot Saint Vincent 24-4 and held a 2-0 lead. PSU would start the second period where they left off, but Brudnok, playing with an injured blocker hand, continued to be up for the challenge, turning away shot after shot. Then at 4:08 of the second period, the Bearcats, would cut the lead in half with a goal by Sam Paquin. Most coaches will tell you the most important shift is the one following a goal. And at 3:43, Mike Pilla would reestablish PSU's two goal lead assisted by Danese and Hagan. Then with Danese serving a two minute hooking penalty, Mitch Rupprecht would score shorthanded on a breakaway from Dominic Bova and Nico Gricco. The Lions would lead 4-1 at the end of two and out shot Saint Vincent in the second period 20-10. With twenty minutes to play, trailing by three goals, Saint Vincent was a desperate team. Thirty-five seconds into the period Sam Paquin would score his second goal of the night, and the score was now 4-2. They say the hardest lead to protect in hockey is a two goal lead, and SVC had all the momentum. That is until two minutes later when Nico Gricco would one time a perfect pass from Danese and Ludwig at 17:12, giving PSU a 5-2 lead. Neither goalie would surrender another goal. As time began to tick down, PSU could feel the championship within their grasp. As the clock struck 0:00, the Lions swarmed goaltender Josh Snyder who turned away 19-21 shots. PSU would out shoot SVC in the third 17-7. Commissioner Dave Fryer congratulated SVC on a tremendous season and how tough they battled in the CHE championship game. Fryer would then turn to the Lions, also congratulating them on a fantastic season and winning the championship trophy. So he invited PSU's Captain Michael Ludwig to come get the championship trophy. Ludwig skated over to the team, with the trophy hoisted high. Every player circled around the trophy, enjoying this euphoric moment. Nick Danese would be awarded the teams MVP Belt for his best performance of the season. Both teams are expected to represent the Southeastern Division at the NCHA Nationals in Newark, Ohio, March 18-20. Several players commented on PSU's first ever championship in school history. Sophomore Danny Wilson summed it up the best. "At the beginning of the season we set a goal to win the championship in the CHE, then qualify for nationals, and we did exactly that. All of the hard work put in throughout the season really showed in the way we played these past two games. We out hustled our opponents in the corners winning every major battle for the puck and wore them down with our speed. If we can ride this momentum into the national tournament, I think we can do great things while we're there." Freshman Mike Lassik commented on the Lion's performance. "We showed a lot of heart and passion. But what got us the championship, was being more than a team and coming together as one, while having fun doing it." Freshman Sean Dolan applauded his teams strong performance. "We came out strong, worked hard in their zone, put a lot of shots on their goalie, and did what we needed to do to win the game." Assistant captain Jeff Hagan kept it short and sweet. "It was awesome to win the CHE, but we still have a lot of work to do to accomplish our season goal." Assistant captain Nico Gricco: "We haven't finished what we started." Sophomore Nick Tamburi: "There is more to come for Penn State Altoona."