When Mount St. Joseph coach Steve Szlasa was asked about his team's health before yesterday's season opener, he said the Gaels were doing fine "except for the usual first-game jitters."
Szlasa had his own nerves to contend with, this being his first game as coach and his return to Severn School, where he played for two years before graduating in 1982.
The 12th-ranked Gaels started slowly, allowing five quick shots and a goal by Peter Janney. But they soon got untracked and later took advantage of a three-minute, nonreleasable penalty to begin the fourth quarter by scoring twice for an 8-6 victory over the No. 8 Admirals in a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference game.
Senior Josh Hockstra had four goals and an assist for the Gaels, who return only nine players from last season, when they went 5-8 and missed the playoffs. Senior Jay Muir added three goals and an assist, and senior Rob LaNoue scored one goal and assisted on another.
Janney and senior David Pizzi each had two goals, as Severn followed Tuesday's 4-3 win over St. Albans with a loss that came about, in large part, from a crucial call with the game tied, 5-5.
Severn's Ben Marchant, who handles faceoffs, was whistled for using an illegal stick -- officials ruled it was too narrow -- putting the Admirals a man down for three minutes. Hockstra converted passes from Steve English at 26 seconds and Muir at 1:08 for a 7-5 lead.
Hockstra added another man-advantage goal with 58 seconds remaining, after Javual Mack was called for a slash. Pizzi scored off a pass from Marchant 14 seconds later, but it wasn't enough to ruin Szlasa's homecoming.
"This is great. I couldn't feel any better," he said.
He probably couldn't have felt much worse early on, when Severn took control and kept the pressure on Mount St. Joe junior goalkeeper Jay Borne (10 saves). Muir tied the game, 1-1, on the Gaels' first shot with 3:24 left in the opening quarter, but Pizzi answered less than a minute later off a pass from Janney.
LaNoue found Muir cutting down the middle of the field, and the ensuing goal with 40 seconds left pulled the teams even again. The Gaels then went ahead for the first time, 3-2, when LaNoue blasted a shot past Severn keeper Willis Wu (11 saves) from about 25 yards out with 24 seconds remaining in the quarter and the Admirals a man down.
"We had to get out a few butterflies in the beginning," Hockstra said, "but then we started picking up and making things work. We didn't get the first couple of faceoffs and we were down on defense for most of the first quarter. But in the end, our team
pulled through and did a good job."
Mount St. Joe was a man down when Severn's Josh Sims converted a pass from Alex Rouse with 3:48 left in the first half. But the Gaels went ahead, 4-3, with 25 seconds remaining when Muir scored off a pass from Josh Viccio.
Severn took just two shots in the second quarter.
It was 5-3 when Marchant scored off the faceoff and Janney fielded a pass from Sims, who had scooped up a loose ball and beat Borne. But from there, the game turned on the measurement of a stick.
"There's nothing you can do about it," said Severn coach Mike Burnett, whose team was outshot, 29-26. "We have the kids check them, but he's a faceoff guy and when you face off, you tend to press down on the stick."
Twice in the fourth quarter, a Gael had to serve a one-minute penalty. Both times, the Admirals failed to get off a shot. The second infraction, with 4:50 left and Severn down, 7-5, was nonreleasable.
Said Szlasa: "That stick penalty was the turning point of the game. You feel sorry for somebody to lose on a penalty like that. . . . They're a class organization. Any time you beat a team like [Severn], it feels so good.
"When we got down, I grabbed them and said, 'We will not lose this game. There's no way. I'm not going to do that.' "