'Unreal': Victor, Penfield share Class A title in 4OT thriller; Webster Thomas wins Class B

·7 min read

A full game in the regular season didn’t decide it, so why should the playoffs be any different?

Sunday’s Section V Class A hockey championship between No. 1 Penfield and No. 2 Victor at SUNY Brockport promised much, but it's doubtful anyone saw this coming. The Patriots and Blue Devils played to a 2-2 tie through regulation and four short overtime periods didn’t make a difference.

So the teams were declared co-champions of Class A but a shootout would determine which team advanced to the state tournament. And even then, that took three rounds of three shooters each so when junior forward Jackson Guck converted on the final shot of the third round, the sigh of relief was real.

“What a game,” Victor coach Mike Ferreri said. “That was unreal.”

For Guck, the pressure before the shot was on his mind until he decided to simply do what he does best, and that’s play hockey.

“My coaches were telling me where to go and where to shoot but honestly, I was just hoping I didn’t lose the puck,” he said. “I didn’t even know we could go into a shootout.”

The goal capped what was a wild ride for three full periods and four extra periods. Especially after these teams played to a 3-3 tie in the regular season.

Penfield (20-2-1) struck first with 4:19 left in the opening period when Sam Smock converted and it wasn’t until 9:29 of the second that Victor (19-2-2) leveled the score with Colin McNamara’s goal. Sean Smith responded with 2:12 left in the period when he scored the prettiest goal of the game.

On the penalty kill, the senior created a turnover shallow in his own end, then jumped on the puck with plenty of open ice ahead of him. His speed carried him in and the wrister that landed top shelf was a breathtaking display of skill and determination.

Victor's Charles Romeis receives the championship trophy in Class A.
Victor's Charles Romeis receives the championship trophy in Class A.

It also gave Penfield a 2-1 lead that lasted until McNamara scored again with 4:48 left in regulation. And that’s what forced the free hockey, which was as tense as you might imagine in a championship game.

But goalies Dom Andrade for Penfield and Max Pitts for Victor were equal to the tasks, along with the defenders in front of them. Both teams came into Sunday’s championship as stingy defensive units. And both certainly were effective, but Andrade and Pitts sparkled between the pipes.

Pitts was especially bright down the stretch that included a glove save on a Smith slap shot with 46 seconds left in the fourth OT.

“I barely saw the puck,” said Pitts, a sophomore, and game MVP. “But I was able to get my arm up and I saw it come in my glove. Then I took a big breath.”

As the overtime play wore on, it was evident that the systems were working at both ends. Scoring opportunities were there, but finishes were not and that’s when coaches fight their instinct and try to keep from coaching too much. Because there comes a time when it’s time to let the hockey decide the hockey.

“You just tell the kids to take care of the puck in their own end,” said Ferreri. “And there’s never a bad shot.”

And while technically, the teams are co-champs, Penfield coach Nate Miller said it’s difficult to find the consolation in that.

“The kids threw everything they had on the line,” he said. “We’ve got warriors in that room and it’s a growing experience. I’m just disappointed it had to end this way for this group. But you couldn’t ask for much more.”

Class B: Webster Thomas beats Aquinas

Defense has been there all season for the Webster Thomas hockey team and when it was needed the most, there was no question.

Holding a one-goal lead heading into the third period of Sunday’s Section V Class B championship game, the Titans buckled down and kept Aquinas off the board before adding an empty-net goal in the final minute to clinch the title with a 4-2 victory.

“It’s unreal,” Thomas senior defenseman Aiden Stappenbeck said. “Really, I’m at a loss for words. We worked so hard for this.”

Indeed, the Titans (15-3-2) had their work cut out for them. During the regular season, the Titans were one of the best teams in Section V in terms of limiting goals. On the other hand, Aquinas (16-6-1) was the top scoring offense.

So which unit would come through at Tuttle Ice Arena on the SUNY Brockport campus? The first period didn’t answer the question after Ethan Stappenbeck for Thomas and Connor Mangone for Aquinas traded goals.

In the second period, Michael Dowden cleaned up a rebound and Jason Tucker scored less than two minutes apart for Thomas but Aquinas answered with a sweet wrister from Iesa Mohammed with 8:31 left.

That set up what was sure to be an intense third period and it did not disappoint. Especially after a goal by Connor Carey was waved off with 15:43 left in regulation.

Thomas goalie Jackson Gruttadauria  celebrates as the horn sounds and the Titans beat Aquinas for the Class B title.
Thomas goalie Jackson Gruttadauria celebrates as the horn sounds and the Titans beat Aquinas for the Class B title.

Officials ruled the goal didn’t count because the goal was off its moorings, even though it was just by an inch or two. Aquinas coach Chuck Dossier said he believed the goal should count because the goal was still in the area of where it should have been.

“That was a tough one but either way, you play on,” said Dossier.

Thomas goalie Jackson Gruttadauria and his defense was ready, however, and when Mike Swartzenberg’s empty net goal countered the extra skater for Aquinas with 55 seconds left, the Titans knew they could begin to celebrate their third title in four seasons.

“We just stayed in our system,” Thomas coach David Evans said. “We bend but don’t break and we did a good job of battling and defending. We tell the kids we have to grind in all the zones.”

A special moment: Mr. Nuch

Just moments after Thomas celebrated the final horn, the players made their way to the corner of the rink, where Aquinas players had gathered near a banner that honored the memory of John Nuccitelli.

Section V hockey: Aquinas celebrates Mr. Nuch. 'He always made you feel special'

Mr. Nuch, a longtime supporter of Section V hockey who especially loved Aquinas hockey, died on Jan. 30. In a touching tribute, players from Aquinas and Thomas took a knee in front of the banner for a moment of silence.

“Just the way he impacted the game,” said Aiden Stappenbeck. “He changed hockey in Rochester and we’re all grateful for that.”

Gruttadauria said it was a special moment.

“It meant a lot to celebrate his life with them,” he said.

Dossier said the Thomas staff asked to join the tribute before the game, no matter what the result.

“It was a nice gesture,” he said. “Mr. Nuch did so much for Section V hockey and this shows the respect for him. He did a lot of other things for hockey beyond Aquinas.”

What’s next

While Victor and Penfield share the Class A title this season, Victor moves on to the state tournament. The Blue Devils will play a Section VI opponent on Saturday at SUNY Brockport at 4 p.m.

In Class B, Webster Thomas plays a Section VI opponent on Saturday at SUNY Brockport at 1 p.m.

The winners from there advance to the state semifinals (March 12) and possibly to the state finals on March 13. The semifinals and state finals are at the LECOM Harborcenter in Buffalo.

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Hockey: Victor, Penfield share Section V Class A title in 4OT thriller