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MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. — It can finally be said: Eastchester/Tuckahoe/Bronxville's hockey squad lived up to the hype.
The No. 2-seeded Eagles (19-3), who entered the season as one of the most-talked about teams in Section 1, advanced to the Division 1 finals with a 5-3 win over No. 3-seeded New Rochelle on Thursday at the Ice Hutch. ETB will square off against top-seeded Suffern in Sunday's championship game at West Point's Tate Rink.
After having the talent to make a deep playoff run the past few years, it finally came together for the Eagles in 2011-12.
“The No. 1 thing is heart,” said goalie Lucas Berger, who made 30 saves. “We've had a couple of scares (in both playoff games) where it got close, but there are 16 seniors on this team. Each one is fighting to make sure they can play against Suffern. On Sunday, we are going to keep fighting, too.”
Against upset-minded New Rochelle, ETB took control of its destiny in the second period, outscoring the Huguenots 3-1 to grab a 4-2 lead heading into the third. Ian Palfrey, Joe Blute and Mark Luciano tallied one goal apiece to power the game-sealing surge.
“The first period we weren't forechecking that hard and that's why it was so close,” Luciano said. “Then we decided to finish our hits and that was the difference.”
Berger said the slow start was merely par for the course.
“We have trouble out of the gate, but second period we come back, collect ourselves and that's when we do our best work,” he said.
According to Luciano, the Eagles also had a little added motivation.
“In the locker room, we were just taking about how when we were freshman we had a lead on New Rochelle in the playoffs and lost,” he said. “We remembered that and didn't want to let off the gas. We wanted to keep going and try to bury them.”
Per usual, Luciano and Palfrey — arguably Section 1's most deadly duo — did most of the damage. Luciano had a game-high two goals and an assist, while Palfrey added a goal and an assist.
But it was Blute, a consummate role player, who came up big for ETB in the clutch. The senior forward unknotted a 2-2 tie at the 9:43 mark of the second period, deflecting in a blue-line blast from senior defenseman James McNamara.
It was just Blute's third goal of the season.
“Joe Blute has been our best forward all playoffs, I swear to God,” Luciano said. “He's done everything right. That's the difference in a lot of playoff games. That's when you need the role players to step up and do what they need to do.”
New Rochelle — which lost a pair of regular-season games to ETB — looked like it might reverse the trend early on. Sophomore forward Brett Barry, who netted a hat-trick, gave the huguenots a 1-0 lead with 5:18 left in the first period off an assist from senior defenseman Nick Sioufas. Luciano evened it up at 1-1 inside the final two minutes of the period, however, Barry struck 36 seconds into the second period to give the Huguenots a 2-1 lead.
“We thought we had some momentum when we had that goal coming out,” New Rochelle assistant coach Vince Tozzo said. “But (ETB) is tough in transition. When you turn that puck over, they come at you real quick. I thought we stood our ground, but they pulled away and got that lead. It's tough. Like I said, they have some really good hockey players. To come back against a team like that is tough.”
Eagles senior forward Chris Hagen put a bow on the win with 1:33 left in regulation, scoring off an assist from Luciano to make it 5-2. Barry added his third goal with eight seconds left.
ETB will now look to keep its dream season alive and upset mighty Suffern, which has won 19 of the past 23 Division 1 titles. The Mounties destroyed the Eagles, 8-0, when the two teams met back on Jan. 10.
On the plus side, ETB now gets to play the role of underdog.
“We will definitely going to be the underdog going in, which will be a nice change from having a lot of pressure on us,” Berger said. “We can really just go out there. It's been (Suffern's) section to lose all year, so we have a chance to take it from them. They are going to be playing a little tight, so we are definitely going to be going hard.”
GAME NOTES: New Rochelle head coach Jim Tozzo, assistant coach Vince Tozzo's uncle, missed his second straight game due to a family emergency … ETB senior forward Ian Palfrey leads Section 1 in scoring with 74 points (40G, 34A) … ETB senior forward Mark Luciano is third on ETB in scoring with 44 points (19G, 25A) … In two playoff games, Palfrey and Luciano lead ETB in scoring with six points apiece … New Rochelle goalie Greg Feliu's 42 saves were a season-high … ETB — which formed as a varsity team back in 2006-07 — will be competing for its first Section 1 Division 1 title in program history.
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. ETB cleans up its game: After committing seven penalties in its 4-2 quarterfinal win over Clarkstown, ETB was called for just one against New Rochelle. The Huguenots, who scored four power-play goals in their previous two playoff wins, never got a chance to employ one their biggest strengths.
2. Eagles excel on forecheck, own second period: The Eagles won this game in the second period, ratcheting up their forecheck to trap New Rochelle inside its own defensive zone. All three ETB goals came off of Huguenots turnovers.
3. ETB thrives on open-ice style: New Rochelle — which has used its speed and smarts to beat bigger and stronger teams all season — ran into a bad matchup against ETB. The Eagles boast the rare combo of size and skill, so they were more than happy playing the Huguenots' brand of open-ice hockey. ETB unleashed a robust 47 shots, including 19 in the decisive second period.
New Rochelle 1 1 1 3
ETB 1 3 1 5
NRO (5:18) Brett Barry from Nick Sioufas | 1-0 NRO
ETB (1:36) Mark Luciano from Frankie Sherding and Ian Palfrey | 1-1
NRO (14:24) Barry from Sioufas and Kenny McLean | 2-1 NRO
ETB (10:56) Palfrey from Chris Hagen | 2-2
ETB (9:43) Joe Blute from James McNamara | 3-2 ETB
ETB (5:47) Luciano unassisted | 4-2 ETB
ETB (1:33) Hagen from Palfrey and Luciano | 5-2 ETB
NRO (0:08) Barry from Greg Feliu | 5-3 ETB
New Rochelle: Brett Barry (3G); Nick Sioufas (2A); Kenny McLean (1A); Greg Feliu (1A)
ETB: Mark Luciano (2G, 1A); Ian Palfrey (1G, 2A); Chris Hagen (1G, 1A); Joe Blute (1G); Frankie Sherding (1A); James McNamara (1A)
New Rochelle: Greg Feliu (42 saves)
ETB: Lucas Berger (30 saves)
New Rochelle 10 14 9 33
ETB 13 19 15 47
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