By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
When tryouts for the Pittsford hockey team ended back in February and the final varsity roster was posted, junior forward Aidan McGrain wasn’t sure what to expect.
After all, as a sophomore he had bounced between the junior varsity and varsity, and perhaps rightfully so. By his own admission, he doesn’t exactly possess magical puck skills, so he knew he wasn’t assured a varsity uniform.
“I couldn’t even catch a pass at the start of the year,” McGrain said. “I’ve been a bubble player my whole life; I’ve never been above anybody.”
On Saturday he was on top of the world.
McGrain’s goal 2:16 into the third overtime period gave the Panthers a 2-1 victory over Victor in the Section V Class A championship game at the Rochester Ice Center.
That it took three periods of regulation and three more of overtime to decide the champion was quite fitting for this crazy, condensed-by-COVID-19 hockey season. The puck didn’t drop for Game 1 of the abbreviated 12-game season until Feb. 9, so why not make the time on the ice last as long as possible?
McGrain, however, finally brought the game and the season to an end with his goal, which was quite typical of overtime tallies: throw it at the net and pray.
He circled behind the net, skated out to the left of goalie Garrett Simpson and backhanded a pass toward the deep slot.
The puck hit a defenseman, then hit Simpon’s right leg and crawled up and over and just across the goal line.
For the Panthers, it triggered an instantaneous outburst of jubilation. For the Blue Devils, it was stunned disbelief.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh, my God,’ is it actually possible?’ ” McGrain said. “I was like, ‘What just happened?’ And then I thought to myself, ‘This is the best feeling in the world.’ ”
McGrain said he was actually trying to pass the puck to his linemate, Brian Judge, Mr. Double Overtime himself. It was Judge who scored in the second overtime of the 2019 sectional Class A title game that gave the Panthers a 3-2 victory over Fairport.
For the Panthers, Saturday’s sectional title was their sixth since 2010, but in terms of post-season seedings, this could be considered the most improbable. Pittsford, with a 4-7-1 record, entered the one-week tournament as the No. 8 seed. Victor, which went 10-2 in the regular season, was seeded third.
But the Panthers didn’t consider themselves some low-seeded underdog. When they played Victor on March 2, they lost 1-0, so they certainly weren’t outclassed by anyone.
“We played from behind a lot and in the first half of the season we didn’t always close that gap,” Pittsford coach Steve Thering said. “The second half we started to win those games. We needed time to put things together.”
For the Blue Devils, the loss left them one goal shy of a 10th sectional title.
“Both teams played well,” Victor coach Mike Ferreri said. “Both teams have good offensive power. We were trying to shut down their top guys and they were trying to shut down our top guys. Credit to them, they played very well.”
Alex Parton’s power-play goal had given Victor the lead 6:37 into the first period. He connected on a perfect top-shelf shot off an equally perfectly executed give-and-go with Cal Lambert.
The Blue Devils maintained that 1-0 lead until 5:56 of the third period, when the Panthers displayed a little puck artistry of their own to set up Will Masaschi’s bullet, top-corner goal fired from the left circle.
Victor outshot Pittsford 40-28. Both goalies, Simpson for the Blue Devils and Ryan Graney for the Panthers, were sharp.
“But as we always say in the room, no shots a bad shot in overtime,” Ferreri said.