Atholton has long been considered the most dominant ice hockey team in Howard County.
Last night, the Raiders finally proved it.
One year after forfeiting eight wins because of an academically ineligible player, and failing to make the playoffs, Atholton scored three unanswered goals to top River Hill, 4-1, in the county championship game at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel.
"Last year we knew we should've won it ... so this year it was extra important that we go out and do our best," defenseman Patrick Cavanaugh said.
The Raiders did just that after their typically slow start. Giving up the game's first five shots, they outshot the Hawks 32-22 the rest of the way, getting a goal and an assist each from Cavanaugh, Khalil Rizvi and Colin Brumsted.
In a game that also served as a quarterfinal of the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League's Tier II public schools tournament, as the Raiders (10-1) advanced to the semifinals against Eastern Conference champion Southern-Anne Arundel, at 6:15 tonight at Wells Ice Rink in College Park.
To get there, Atholton used the second period to change the complexion of what had been a tight game.
With the score tied at 1, the Raiders took command when Brumsted and Oliver Baranczky scored back-to-back goals in a span of 1:15.
The first, a hard slap shot from 45 feet out by Brumsted, came seconds after River Hill's Matt Miller was sent to the penalty box for two minutes. Baranczky's effort off a feed from Brumsted extended the lead to 3-1.
"Once we got that go-ahead goal, we knew it was like, 'We're not looking back now,' " Brumsted said.
The spurt was especially important from a depth perspective. With River Hill essentially playing four lines to Atholton's two, Raiders coach Jim Brumsted was concerned about his team's stamina in a tight game.
"I've got five seniors on the team, so we wanted to just put it all out on the ice," Jim Brumsted said.
River Hill (9-2), meanwhile, was mostly kept on its heels, partly because of its own doing. The Hawks committed eight penalties, including four in the second period, when at one point they were down two players for 1:47. They got their only goal from Luke Lynes.
"Penalties hurt us. We were out of sync," said River Hill coach Paul Kelley.
Last season, River Hill was 9-0-1 before the forfeits. For players who were on that team, yesterday's win became all the more significant.
"We're the best team in the county," Colin Brumsted said, "and everyone needs to know that."