Though it took a week longer than hoped, Vestal is once again the Broome County High School Hockey Association champion.
Nick Barney had a goal and two assists, and Ross Boots added a goal and an assist, his goal putting Vestal ahead to stay in a thrilling 4-3 victory over Maine-Endwell in the winner-take-all finale Thursday at SUNY Broome Ice Center.
Goalie Nick Nestlerode made 33 saves for Vestal, which captured its third straight BCHSHA championship. Vestal had hoped to clinch the title on Feb. 27, but M-E prevailed in a shootout, 4-3, following 53 scoreless minutes of play to force Thursday’s rematch in the double-elimination tournament.
Like their previous encounter, Thursday’s contest was a back-and-forth affair. That changed late in the second period, when Vestal started to get the better of things.
With the teams knotted at 2 in the second period, Boots just missed putting Vestal ahead with about three minutes remaining when he couldn’t poke in a loose puck sitting in front of a half-open net. Moments later, Boots took a pass from Barney and fired a hard shot from the slot past M-E goalie Chris McVannan to give Vestal its first lead of the game with 2:32 left in the period.
Vestal increased its lead to 4-2 early in the third period, this time Barney scoring off an assist from Boots, Barney’s shot from near the right circle sneaking inside the left post with 10:55 remaining.
M-E wasn’t quite done, though.
Increasing the offensive pressure, M-E had several chances — including a Nick Giordano shot that hit the right post on an M-E power-play with seven minutes remaining — before Colin Wenzel scored on a shot from the left circle with 3:38 left to cut Vestal’s lead to 4-3.
But a minute later, M-E’s comeback hopes were hampered when Kyle Balmer was called for an elbowing penalty with 2:37 left, leaving M-E short-handed for nearly the remainder of the game.
M-E killed the penalty, but got only one more significant offensive chance when Brendan Dyer’s backhand from close range went wide right with less t ha n10 seconds remaining.
“There’s a few really big chances they had there, they are tough on offense,” Nestlerode said. “I didn’t have quite the game I had last time, but still I’m happy with it and got the job done.”
Vestal coach Bruce Barney felt his team didn’t lose confidence offensively, even after failing to score a goal in its previous game against M-E.
“We told the kids keep shooting, keep shooting, we’ll get one in,” Barney said. “I think both teams got tired (late) … but our guys refused to lose.”
M-E had one-goal leads in both the first and second periods, only to have Vestal respond quickly each time.
M-E went ahead 1-0 when Jeremy Wilber flipped a shot from close range past Nestlerode with 14:45 remaining. Vestal tied it 49 seconds later, as Troy Harding scored off a rebound of a Patrick Kelly shot with 13:56 left.
In the second period, M-E grabbed a 2-1 lead following a scramble in front of the Vestal net, Balmer knocking in a rebound with 14:25 left. Thirty seconds later, Vestal wiped out the lead when Ryan Reese cut left in the M-E zone and fired a low shot past McVannan to tie it at 2.
“It’s tough,” M-E coach Al Gorick of his team’s short-lived leads. “We knew that type of game could be there. We’ve played them five times now … it seems whichever team gets the momentum, the other team wasn’t going to quit.”