HAUPPAUGE, NY -- One foot wide.
Smithtown/Hauppauge, which dictated the play for most of its series-opening game against Connetquot/Sayville, now found itself shorthanded with the T-Birds goaltender pulled for a 6-on-4 penalty kill with just 50 seconds left and clinging to a 4-3 lead.
That’s when Bulls goaltender Thomas Drapala came up big.
The Smithtown netminder turned away a barrage of T-Birds shots near the end, including one last attempt with a second left on the clock, which deflected a foot wide of the left post as the buzzer sounded to give Smithtown/Hauppauge a 4-3 win over Connetquot/Sayville in Game 1 of the Suffolk County High School Hockey League finals.
For two teams that have played as even as even can be against each other throughout the season, it didn’t come as a surprise that Game 1 of the SCHSHL finals was decided by about a foot.
“I don’t know if I can go to work tomorrow,” an exhausted and relieved Smithtown head coach Vincent Granice said following the game.
Once Coach Granice was able to compose himself, he quickly gave credit to where credit was due.
“Goaltending and defense -- the kids played a tremendous game,” Granice said. “For the short bench that we had - we were missing five players - the kids just really stepped up tonight.”
Drapala was also quick to credit his defense for helping preserve the victory.
“They had a lot of nice blocked shots and they were clearing the puck well out there, especially in the last minute,” Drapala said following the victory. “I was seeing the puck great out there. There was a couple of screen in the end out there that I just got lucky on, but I was pretty on tonight.”
While Drapala led the Bulls on the back end, Smithtown/Hauppauge’s power play was exactly what a man advantage is supposed to do – be powerful.
All four of Smithtown/Hauppauge’s goals came on the power play, with the Bulls going 4-for-7 overall on the man-advantage. Daniel Nelson scored two goals on the evening, while Michael Gioia and Nick Ambery added tallies of their own. Thomas Dunn also added four assists on the night.
“They were unbelievable. We came through in the clutch when we needed,” Drapala said of his team’s power play. “It really helped us out there and got our momentum really high.”
Connetquot/Sayville got on the board first as Joey Walsh scored his sixth goal of the season just 4:37 into the first period. Gino Leocadi led a 3-on-1 rush down the ice, centered the puck to a streaking Walsh who one-timed a shot past Drapala to give the T-Birds a 1-0 lead.
That would be the last lead the T-Birds would have for the remainder of the game.
Gioia would get the equalizer for the Bulls two and a half minutes later, grabbing his own rebound off a deflected shot off of Dzmitry Daniliuk’s stick from the point, and put it past a sprawled Brett Ficken to even things up at 1-1. Nelson potted the next two tallies for the Bulls for his 18th and 19th goals on the season.
Nick Ambery scored his fifth goal of the season with 7:13 left in the contest to give the Bulls a 4-1 lead, and the eventual game-winning goal. The Bulls forced a Connetquot turnover at the blue line and transitioned it into a 2-on-1 set-up, in which Gioia sent a cross-ice feed to Ambery for the easy put-in.
Following the last Bulls tally, Connetquot/Sayville turned on the pressure, potting two goals in a minute from Tyler Rifice and Daniel Monahan to cut the deficit to one goal, but the last minute pressure coming on the power play just fell short, giving the decision to the Bulls.
Game 2 is slated for Wednesday night at 9:20 p.m. at the Rinx in Hauppauge.