Winning has become a habit for the Mount St. Joseph ice hockey team, so the Gaels found themselves in a strange position yesterday: They had something to prove.
But the Gaels removed all doubt as to who the best team in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association was by defeating Archbishop Spalding, 4-0, at Piney Orchard Ice Arena. In the process, they won their sixth consecutive A Conference title.
Mount St. Joseph (14-1-0, 11-0 league) is the only school to win the A Conference championship since the MIAA introduced hockey as a varsity sport in 1998.
After two narrow regular-season victories (both by 3-2) over the Cavaliers (14-6-3, 7-3-1), some were starting to doubt the Gaels.
"Yeah, we felt like we had something to prove," said Matt Nedzel. "We always feel like we have to prove ourselves, but even more so this year. The game came down to who wanted it more, and we wanted it more."
Nedzel wasted little time getting the Gaels started. With just 2:52 gone, he poked a rebound of a shot by Pat Noonan past Spalding goalie Darren DeLullo for a 1-0 lead. Mount St. Joseph added to the lead just under three minutes later when Kevin Miller took advantage of a Spalding penalty and tipped a backhander past DeLullo for a 2-0 lead.
Spalding did a better job at the defensive end in the second period, but the Cavaliers couldn't solve Gaels goalie Patrick Street (15 saves).
"Our forechecking was really working tonight," said Gaels coach Erv Terwilliger. "The defense played exceptional, especially in one-on-one situations. We teach fundamental hockey, and that's how we played."
The Gaels put the game out of reach just 2:47 into the final period when Noonan scored a short-handed goal on a backhander to run the lead to 3-0.
"I told my team [entering the third period] that the next goal decides the game," said Spalding coach Steve Moeglein. "They got it and we didn't."
Mount St. Joseph closed out the scoring on a goal by John Bauman with 9:12 remaining.
"We really didn't come in here thinking we'd dominate the game," said Terwilliger. "We graduated 12 seniors last year, and for these kids to play their best game of the season in this game is a testament to this team."
By successfully defending their MIAA title, the Gaels advanced to the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League playoffs, where they'll try to defend that championship.
"Winning the MIAA title is like cake, while winning the MSHL title is like icing on the cake," said Terwilliger. "We won this one, so now we can go have some fun."
In the B Conference, Gilman (13-5-2, 7-0-2) got goals from Red Farha, Aaron Salisbury and Mac Williams to defeat Sts. Peter and Paul (7-7-2, 3-3-2) of Easton, 3-0. The victory gave Gilman its first-ever MIAA title in hockey.
The Greyhounds dominated the game, but didn't score until Farha's tip-in of a rebound gave them the lead with 33.7 seconds left in the first period. Gilman outshot the Sabres, 43-8, in the game."