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WEST POINT N.Y. — Another year, another sectional championship plaque for Suffern's powerhouse hockey program.
It has become as routine as brushing one's teeth for the top-seeded Mounties, who rolled to their third straight Section 1 Division 1 title with a convincing 6-1 win over No. 2-seeded Eastchester/Tuckahoe/Bronxville (19-4) on Sunday at West Point's Tate Rink.
Suffern (19-2-2) — which has won 20 of the past 24 Section 1 Division 1 titles — will now embark on a quest to win its first and only state title since 1992. The Mounties will square off against Section 9's Monroe-Woodbury in the regional finals on Saturday at Sport-O-Rama at 6 p.m.
Like Mount Vernon basketball and Yorktown lacrosse, Suffern's expectation at the start of the season is to take home a state title. As a result, the impressive string of sectional championships can often be overlooked.
“I think it's kind of tough that they don't get to appreciate it too much,” Mounties coach Rob Schelling said. “It's pretty impressive in this day in age with so many teams in Section 1 to be champs three years in a row. Sometimes, they don't realize what an accomplishment that it is.”
Against the Eagles, Suffern flashed its championship pedigree early in second period. The Mounties, who led 1-0 after an evenly played opening period, scored back-to-back goals inside the first five minutes of the second to stretch their lead to 3-0. Junior forward John Costa struck first at 11:24 and senior forward Willie Sanchez scored the first of his four goals at 10:39.
“We stuck with it, stuck to our game plan and got pucks to the net,” Sanchez said. “We got a couple past the goalie and took it from there.”
For ETB, there was no slowing down the Suffern machine.
“We had a couple defensive breakdowns and once they got a couple in it was very difficult to come back against a team like that,” Eagles coach Dave O'Neil said. “They were deeper than us and guys on their third line are very skilled as well. It was very hard to keep up with them. I tried to match lines with them in the beginning, but it was very difficult and we ran out of steam.”
The senior duo of Mark Luciano and Ian Palfrey combined for ETB's lone goal. Luciano scored it off a feed from Palfrey with 6:28 left in the second to trim Suffern's lead to 3-1.
And then it was all Sanchez, all the time. The Mounties' leading scorer reeled off three straight goals to close out the game. He buried the first with 33 seconds left in the second off an assist from senior captain John Redgate and added two more in the span of 19 seconds early in the third period.
“(Sanchez) can bury the puck,” Schelling said. “He's got great hands and did what a senior leader should do.”
Fellow senior Steve Scholer also stepped up, blasting in a slap shot to give the Mounties a 1-0 first-period lead. Scholer, who is Suffern's top defenseman, was actually playing center at the time of the goal.
“(Scholer) is one of the best hockey players in the state,” Schelling said. “The kid's phenomenal and can do it all. He's going to do whatever it takes for us to win and that's what he did tonight.”
Mounties goalie Tyler Stark turned in another dominant performance with 18 saves. He's been the biggest reason that Suffern's relinquished just one goal through three playoff games.
“Tyler Stark's as good as it gets,” Schelling said. “All five defensemen that played did a great job. We stressed team defense and that's what we did tonight.”
Now, Suffern will concentrate on its ultimate goal of statewide supremacy.
“We have a main goal and that’s to win a state championship,” Sanchez said. “But you have to take one step at a time. The first step is a section title. We have a long way ahead of us before we go to Utica. We have to prepare for Monroe and keep working hard.”
GAME NOTES: Willie Sanchez leads Suffern in scoring with 54 goals (28G, 26A), while John Redgate is second with 46 points (19G, 27A) … ETB's Ian Palfrey finished the year as Section 1's leading scorer with 75 points (40G, 35A) … ETB's Mark Luciano finished the year with 45 points (20G, 25A)
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Sanchez stars: Suffern's Willie Sanchez was on fire — and there wasn't really anything ETB could do to cool him off. The senior star was on point with his shots and was all over the ice.
2. Rapid fire: The Mounties' ability to score back-to-back goals in a flash buried the Eagles. In the beginning of the second period, John Costa and Sanchez each scored in the span of 45 seconds to stretch the lead to 3-0. In the third period, Sanchez lit the lamp twice in the span of 19 seconds to make it 6-1.
3. Airtight defense: Suffern's defense has doubled as Fort Knox during the playoffs. Spearheaded by senior goalie Tyler Stark, the Mounties have given up just one goal in three playoff games.
ETB 0 1 0 1
Suffern 1 3 2 6
SUF (12:05) Steve Scholer from Connor Delaney 1-0 SUF
SUF (11:24) John Costa from Robert Clark | 2-0 SUF
SUF (10:39) Willie Sanchez from Scholer and John Redgate | 3-0 SUF
ETB (6:28) Mark Luciano from Ian Palfrey and Chris Hagen | 3-1 SUF
SUF (0:33) Sanchez from Redgate | 4-1 SUF
SUF (10:49) Sanchez unassisted | 5-1 SUF
SUF (10:30) Sanchez from Scholer | 6-1 SUF
ETB: Mark Luciano (1G); Ian Palfrey (1A); Chris Hagen (1A)
Suffern: Willie Sanchez (4G); Steve Scholer (1G, 1A); John Redgate (2A); John Costa (1G); Connor Delaney (1A); Robert Clark (1A)
ETB: Lucas Berger (20 saves)
Suffern: Tyler Stark (18 saves)
ETB 6 8 5 19
Suffern 6 6 14 26
Email Isaac Cass at Icass@cablevision.com | Follow him on Twitter @MSGV_Icass