Connor Ryan is one of the fastest skaters on the Iona Prep hockey team. As it turned out Monday, night, the forward is also one of the quickest thinkers as well.
With the final seconds winding down in the third period, Ryan crashed the net and knocked in the rebound of Erik Oddoux’s shot with 9.6 seconds left to lift Iona Prep to a 4-3 win over Chaminade in Game 1 of the best-of-three CHSHL Class A semifinal series at World Ice Arena.
“I just had to put it in and win the game,” Ryan said. “There was really no time to react.”
Ryan’s goal capped a remarkable comeback for the third-seeded Gaels, who scored three goals in the final 5:26 to rally from a 3-1 deficit.
“He probably has the best speed on our team and anytime we can put him in the opportunity to use that speed and beat defensemen wide or up the middle, I’ve got to play to his strengths,” Iona Prep coach Lem Randall said. “He was able to take advantage of it and I’m so happy for him.”
Ryan knew overtime was looming when he skated inside the Chaminade blue line, but he wasn’t sure if Oddoux was going to shoot or pass the puck. Once he saw Oddoux put a low slap shot on target, Ryan pounced. He took the puck off Brandon DeStasio’s pads and stuffed in the rebound.
“It was just really fast and crazy,” Ryan said of the post-goal celebration. “Everyone just jumped on me.”
Twice during the regular season, second-seeded Chaminade (12-4-2) defeated Iona Prep (10-5-3) handily, but the teams played to a 1-1 tie on Feb. 2 in Mount Vernon. Sure, the Gaels entered the postseason on a six-game winless streak, but they had newfound confidence they could compete with the Flyers.
“We finally saw we could play with these guys, that we could beat them,” Ryan said. “We just needed to work harder.”
Mike Minarczyk scored twice in a 45-second span in the first period to give Chaminade a 2-0 lead, but Sal DiGioia capitalized on a defensive miscue to finish on a 2-on-1 and cut the Gaels deficit to 2-1 with 1:46 left in the first.
Dillon Radin appeared to all but ice the game for the Flyers, scoring on a high wrist shot with 48.4 seconds remaining in the second.
But the Gaels, who hadn’t won since Jan. 10, found a way to rally.
It started with the first of Kieran O’Meara’s two goals in a span of 2:12. O’Meara then tied the game with a tremendous deflection of Rob Dillon’s slap shot from the point with 3:14 left in regulation.
“I missed a shot, but it went to our point and I knew I had to go hard to the net,” O’Meara said. “I got my stick on it, a nice tip and it found five-hole.”
It was a stunning breakdown for one of the CHSHL’s most stout defensive teams.
“We gave up three goals in the last five minutes. They continued to work and we stopped working, stopped playing defense,” Chaminade coach Frank Bendl said. “We continued to look for goals when it was 3-1.”
A week after battling rival St. Anthony’s for the division title, Chaminade now finds itself on the brink of elimination, needing a win in Game 2 Friday night at Abe Stark Rink to force a decisive Game 3 Saturday night in Brooklyn.
Randall knows his team will face a desperate Chaminade squad, a message he delivered in his jubilant locker room Monday night.
“I told them, what have you guys won right now? We won one game,” Randall said. “It’s a start, but we have to keep working hard. It’s going to be a battle.”