Glenelg ice hockey was the best team in Howard County this regular season for a reason. It has speed, strength on the puck and numerous players to rely on to score goals, proven by its league-best 78 goals scored compared to just nine allowed.
Those attributes were on display throughout the first period Wednesday night in the Serio Cup against defending champions Marriotts Ridge, as the Gladiators outshot the Mustangs, 11-4, and held a 1-0 lead after the first 15 minutes. They looked dominant, poised to pull away and win their second league title in three years.
But then it all fell apart. Their game seemed clunky and out of sync, and Marriotts Ridge took advantage with a pair of goals to take a 2-1 lead after two periods. At the intermission, Glenelg coach Dan Nagle’s message was clear: “We talked about returning to our game and being more aggressive and stronger with the puck and not hesitating to take the shots that were there.
“That’s exactly what we did in the third period and we got a couple of lucky breaks.”
The Gladiators responded quickly on the fresh sheet of ice. They needed less than three minutes to tie the game at 2 after a deflection goal by Tommy Tracy, and when they got their fourth power play with 3:48 remaining, David Kelley capitalized. He ripped the game-winning slap shot from the point with 2:13 left before Chase Collier sealed the 4-2 victory with an empty net goal in the final minute.
“I couldn’t ask for a happier ending. It’s like a fairy tale,” Nagle said. “Coming back against a team as good as Marriotts Ridge is, down 2-1 going into the third, that intermission really helped us. We were able to regroup and we came out firing and we didn’t let up.”
The Gladiators (9-1) outshot the Mustangs, 14-4, in the final period and finished the game with two power-play tallies that proved to be the difference. Kelley led the way with three points, while Tracy and senior captain Curtis Rodkey each had a goal and an assist.
“After the second period we came out and said, ‘Look, if we’re going to do it we’re going to do it in this period, so we knew what we had to do.’ We got the job done,” Rodkey said. “Everyone is a part of this team and everyone can make a difference.”
Sean Jones (power play) and Ben Watson scored for Marriotts Ridge (7-4-1), but it couldn’t overcome the penalties and lack of scoring chances. David Stephens, who coach Armando DiFerdinando called their best player, spent the majority of the third period in the penalty box for a two-minute head contact penalty with a 10-minute misconduct committed late in the second period.
DiFerdinando credited his team’s determination for being able to hang around in a game where not a lot went their way.
“I only have two seniors and the rest of the juniors played for them,” he said. “The word in the locker room was to play for those two seniors. That’s a very good team, a very well disciplined team.”
Rodkey’s power play goal got the Gladiators on the board late in the first period. He rifled a slap shot from center on an assist from Kelley.
“I got a nice pass down low and I was able to take the shot up top,” said Rodkey, who had 12 goals in the regular season. “I didn’t have any traffic in front but I shot it and hoped for the best.”
Sean Jones tied the game for the Mustangs with a power-play goal 6:21 into the second on their first shot of the period, and about six minutes later Ben Watson buried a rebound that was set up by a shot by Harrison Silverston below the left circle to make it a 2-1 advantage. Although they matched Glenelg’s shot total in the second, 6-6, but couldn’t carry the momentum into the third period.
“We didn’t have enough shots on goal,” DiFerdinando said. “As long as we kept our shots low and got rebounds, we were going to score and that’s how we got our two trash goals.”
With six freshmen on the roster, Nagle thought his young players got caught up in the atmosphere of playing in their first big game and “there was a little bit of a crash” before they were able to regroup in the locker room and dominate the final period.
Both teams qualify for the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League playoffs starting on Feb. 12. Glenelg, which reached the quarterfinals last year, is the No. 3 seed, while state finalist Marriotts Ridge is the No. 6 seed. River Hill or Mt. Hebron will also qualify as the No. 13 seed.