By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
The playoff hockey traditions run deep at Webster Thomas High School.
Game-day team breakfasts at T’s Family Restaurant. The bleaching of hair by pretty much every player when sectionals begin. And winning.
Except this year, senior forward Cullen Hennessy opted against a change of hair color.
“I did it last year and it lasted until mid-July,” he said. “People were thinking I was weird.”
They were even more convinced that was the case when he tried to explain it was a hockey thing. After all, it was July.
“I just got sick of it,” he said.
But one Thomas playoff tradition Hennessy will never grow tired of is the winning, and on Tuesday night in the Class B semifinals he made sure the Titans kept marching toward another Section V title.
The junior forward slammed home a perfect centering pass by linemate Zach Wolfe with just 3:54 remaining, breaking a 2-2 tie, and Thomas survived last-minute pressure by Churchville-Chili to post a 3-2 victory.
“That was 45 minutes of kids battling hard because they love hockey,” said Titans coach David Evans after top-seeded Thomas improved to 18-2-2.
Thomas will play the Canandaigua/Spencerport in the championship game at 1 p.m. at RIT’s Gene Polisseni Center. The Titans are finalists for the fifth consecutive year and are seeking their second title in a row, and sixth since 2003.
“Hopefully we can go back-to-back,” Hennessy said. “I think we’re talented enough to do so.”
That was evident in the third period on Tuesday. The teams traded first-period power-play goals — Cade Spencer for Thomas at 2:55, Dylan Clark for the Saints at 14:09 — and traded goals again in the second — Michael Latone for the Saints at 6:25, Kyle Vent at 8:00 for Thomas — but the Titans dominated the third.
Still, the game remained 2-2 through 11 minutes, largely because of the big-save goaltending of Ethan Breton. His 16 stops. in the period (and 36 in the game) included robbery on Brandon Gierczak, Liam Forsyth, Kevin Gabalski and Hennessy.
“We needed it; he kept us in it,” said Saints coach Brian Young, whose club finished 15-6-1 and lost for just the second time in the final 10 games. “Thomas is a good team, the stats showed it, the rankings (No. 2 in the state in Division II) showed it.”
The winning goal came after sustained offensive-zone pressure by the Titans. Wolfe curled out of the left-wing corner and up the wall, then zipped a pass through the deep slot.
At the same time, Hennessy was darting through the deep slot and was alone on the back door to fire it home. He didn’t even need to yell to his linemate for the puck.
“We have insane chemistry,” Hennessy said. “He just knows where I am all the time.”
As a result, the Titans are back where they seem to be all the time during sectional play: in the championship game.
“That’s what it’s all about, making memories,” Evans said.