Fake right, shoot left.
That was the only thing on Jordan Smith’s mind as the Marriotts Ridge senior weaved through the ice to take his shootout attempt with the game on the line.
“It’s as simple as that,” he said, tears welling in his eyes with a smile.
His goal in the fifth round of the shootout lifted the Mustangs to a 3-2 victory over Atholton in the Serio Cup on Wednesday at the Columbia Ice Rink. Marriotts Ridge won the shootout, 3-2, and will enter the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League playoffs with a perfect 11-0 record.
It was an emotional win for the Mustangs, who were playing in the first Howard County championship game since the title was renamed for their former coach, Tom Serio. Serio, who started the Marriotts Ridge program 11 years ago and originated the idea of a county championship game, passed away on July 4, 2016, after suffering a heart attack. He was 58.
“It’s hard to put words into it,” said Mustangs coach Armando DiFerdinando. “I know Tom is up there watching over us.”
DiFerdinando said Smith was one of the players closest to Serio, and that he wanted him to have a chance to win the game with the puck on his stick in the final round of the shootout.
“Nothing was going to stop Jordan from getting that puck in that goal,” DiFerdinando said.
Before taking the shot, however, Smith had his mind on Serio.
“I just had to get it done for the boys, that’s all,” said Smith, who also scored 1 minute, 6 seconds into the second period on a wrist shot from above the left circle to break a 1-1 tie. “It means everything, especially with him passing away so recently. This is the first year with the cup being called that and he got this whole cup thing started. It’s just right that we bring it back for him and his family.”
The game was an evenly matched battle. Both teams had 19 shots at the end of regulation, and neither team was able to find the back of the net in the 5 minute, 5-on-5 overtime period.
Jack Watson, who led the Mustangs in points (26) and goals (15) this season, scored on their first shootout attempt after goalie Gavin Ross (19 saves) made a diving pad save on Atholton’s Matt Barila’s shot.
But the Raiders answered in the second round with a goal from Max Bryant, who also tied the game at 2 at 3:31 of the second period on a breakaway and fancy deke to a backhanded shot. Atholton goalie Tristen Bull (23 saves) stopped the Mustangs’ next attempt, but David Stephens froze Bull with a shot-fake to a backhand to give Marriotts Ridge a 2-1 lead after three rounds.
The Raiders’ Caldwell Bibbs, who buried a power-play goal on a wrist shot through traffic at 12:20 of the first period to tie the game at 1, came up big with another score in the fourth round of the shootout. But after a miss from each team followed, Smith came on to the ice and calmly put away his left-handed shot under Bull’s blocker and celebrated with his teammates as they rushed onto the ice.
“David Stephens, Jordan and our defense played outstanding, and I can proudly say now that we have the best two goalies in all of Howard County,” said DiFerdinando, who noted goalie Alex Stella, who started seven games in the regular season, has two shutouts on the year.
Ross, however, kept the Mustangs in the game with crucial saves down the stretch with the penalty-kill unit on the ice. He made two tough glove saves 25 seconds apart halfway through the third period and stayed strong to help kill a penalty in overtime.
“I was 0-for-5 in shootouts so I was not too happy it was going to a shootout, but I could kind of feel it when we were going into the third period tied at 2,” Ross said. “I didn’t see them giving up and we weren’t giving up, so I felt it would come down to something like this.”
Marriotts Ridge's Jake Cartee scored the game's first goal on a wrist shot from the left circle less than five minutes into the game before Atholton (9-3), which was playing in its sixth straight county championship game, made it 1-1 on a power-play goal a little more than four minutes later.
That would be the only goal for the Raiders' extra-man unit in seven chances, however. Assistant coach Chuck Shaw said his team had several good opportunities throughout the contest, especially in the early stages of the third period when the Mustangs were a man down with the Atholton controlling the play, but couldn't find the goal.
“We got pucks to the net, had guys in front of the net, we just didn’t get the bounce,” he said.
Shaw added that the game plan was to put the puck in deep and fore-check, but the Mustangs did well to keep things spread out. He also thought Marriotts Ridge’s second goal should have been waved off because of goaltender interference.
“They ran over our goaltender and he had no opportunity to get back into the net,” Shaw said. “That’s what I’m really disturbed about. I asked the official and he said nobody touched him.”
Both teams will likely qualify for the MSHL playoffs, which start Feb. 6. The Mustangs, who lost to Old Mill/Annapolis in the semifinals last year after reaching the state final in 2015, hope to get the No. 2 seed behind defending state champions Churchill.
Marriotts Ridge — 3, Atholton — 2 (shootout)
MR: Jake Cartee, assisted by Chris Jones — 4:59
A: Caldwell Bibbs (PPG), assisted by Chris Ditch — 9:06
MR: Jordan Smith, assisted by Jason Haslup — 1:06
A: Max Bryant, unassisted — 3:31
MR: Jack Watson, David Stephens, Jordan Smith
A: Max Bryant, Caldwell Bibbs
MR: Gavin Ross — 19
A: Tristen Bull — 23