As the season wore on and McQuaid was facing highly respected opponents from other sections across upstate New York, there was always some friendly back-and-forth banter on the ice.
Quite often, the familiar refrain heard by McQuaid players — with a vengeful tone — would be “See you in Utica.”
Indeed they will.
The Knights advanced to the state Final Four with a 3-2 triple-overtime victory over West Genesee of Section III on Saturday at Thomas Creek Ice Arena.
Junior forward Jack Hildenbrand redirected a Jared Tallo point shot behind goalie Henry Burns at 2:03 of the third overtime, ending the marathon and giving McQuaid a weekend trip to the Mohawk Valley.
The Knights (18-5-1) will play Massena-X (15-6-1) in the second Division 1 semifinal at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Utica’s Memorial Auditorium. The title game is at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.
“You don’t really talk about Utica at the beginning of the season; you just want to be playing well at the end,” said McQuaid coach Al Vyverberg, who guided the Knights to the 2005 state Division 1 championship.
McQuaid is playing very well right now, but Burns and the defensive-minded Wildcats (16-6-2) had them feeling frustration in Saturday’s regional.
The Knights had launched 45 shots on goal through regulation and the first two 7 1/2-minute overtime periods, yet the score was still 2-2.
“We just knew we had to keep playing our game,” said Tallo, who scored McQuaid’s second goal at 13:18 of the second period on a power play to tie the score 2-2.
Hildenbrand finally provided victory just seconds after a faceoff win by linemate Joe Pasko.
“Our centerman just told me to bust my butt to the net and that’s what I did,” said Hildenbrand, who scored only one goal in 17 regular-season games but has found the net three times in four playoff games.
It turns out Pasko was very confident that he would win the faceoff, which was to the left of Burns. “He told me the puck was coming right to me,” said Tallo, who was lined up at the center point.
Just as Pasko drew it up, the puck came back to the point, Tallo fired and Hildenbrand, having just reached the right edge of the crease, reached out and steered the puck into the net.
Let the on-ice party begin.
“The first feeling was relief and then it was just awesome,” Hildenbrand said.
McQuaid led 1-0 after the first period as Michael Capicotto scored 4:50 into the game. But West Genny used second-period power plays to take the lead. Aaron Jones’ solo burst to the net tied the score at 4:08 and Robbie Michel went top shelf with a rebound at 11:39.
But the Knights never had time to panic as Tallo scored off quick passes from Capicotto and Reed Schmitt to tie it 1:39 later.
“That gave us some confidence instead of going into the third period thinking ‘Oh no,’ ” Vyverberg said.