BY JONATHAN SKUZA
PERINTON, N.Y.– The old saying goes that defense wins championships.
A goaltender in hockey is the last line of defense and their job is to stop every shot that is taken by the opponent.
On Wednesday evening, Aden Brown stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced to send the No. 4 seed Pittsford (16-5-1) to its second Class A title appearance in three years with a 2-1 victory over McQuaid (19-2-1).
Brown saw all different types of shots from wide-open chances to screened shots to weird-angle shots. The sophomore goaltender stood tall against everything the top-seeded Knights threw at him.
Not only did Brown perform well in the defensive aspect of the game, but the five teammates in front of him did as well.
“It wasn’t a solo performance,” Brown stated about his team’s performance. “My defense did an amazing job of clearing out the front of the net making sure I saw every puck. I thought we played really well as a team. We locked it down at the end.”
In a tightly contested game that came down to the wire, Pittsford made sure nothing got past their goaltender when the game mattered the most.
The Panthers killed off a crucial slashing penalty with 2:13 to go in regulation when only up a single goal.
“I think we didn’t get overzealous and we didn’t start chasing around,” Pittsford’s head coach Steve Thering said of the crucial penalty kill. “The first time we played them they had two powerplay goals on us. Tonight we kept it way more compact. We didn’t allow them to stop through the middle and kept them to the outside.”
The offensive side of the puck for Pittsford had to be opportunistic as the Knights pressed them all contest.
The Panthers only registered 13 shots but were able to get two past the Knights’ goaltender when they were able to enter the offensive zone.
The second line for Pittsford scored both of their goals with Henok Hankinson and Colin Norton connecting twice.
“They rose to the occasion and they move the puck well,” Thering stated about Hankinson and Norton connecting for two goals. “Those chances came off of good puck movement and also attacking off the rush with numbers. When you can move the puck well, you can attack with numbers and get a lot of chances.”
After falling behind 1-0 in the first period, Norton found Hankinson with 30 seconds to go to tie the contest.
Norton found Hankinson again with a behind-the-back pass that was tapped home to give the Panthers the lead with 12:55 to go in the second period.
The two juniors have had chemistry all year whether it’s dishing the puck to one another or forechecking an opposing team.
“I feel he’s been probably the reason for most of my goals this year,” Hankinson said of his linemate Norton. “He’s always been setting me up, knows where I am at all times.”
The second line for the Panthers brings a physicality and depth aspect that is needed during post-season hockey to make a deep run.
“Before each game, we kind of tell each other its other were scoring out there or we got to play physical,” Hankinson stated about his line’s physical mentality. “No matter what, if you don’t hit someone, we feel like we failed a test. We got to be physical to play better than them.”
Despite ending up on the losing end, McQuaid brought an intensity all game by testing Brown and controlling most of the offensive zone time, and limiting the Panthers’ time in their zone.
Matt Kozara set up Liam Palmer with the Knights’ only goal with a cross-slot pass on a two-on-one.
Pittsford avenged a 4-1 loss against the Knights to end the regular season back on February 10.
“We made some adjustments,” Thering stated about the victory. “We came in with a different game plan today, and obviously that paid dividends.”
Pittsford will take on the defending Class A champions in the No. 2 seed Victor Blue Devils on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Wegmans Ice Arena on the campus of SUNY Brockport.
“Get a game plan together and put our best foot forward and the guys will show up on Sunday ready to play,” Thering stated about preparing for the defending champions.
The last time the two teams met for a Class A title was two years ago when the Panthers defeated the Blue Devils 2-1 in triple overtime.
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