By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
Colin Norton contends he’s not accustomed to performing heroics on the big stage of playoff overtime.
He played the part of hero perfectly on Sunday afternoon, however.
Norton’s goal 4:31 into the second overtime gave fourth-seeded Pittsford a 2-1 victory over No. 2 Victor at SUNY Brockport and its third Section V Class A championship in the past five years.
“No one believed in us but we did,” the junior winger said.
The winning goal came after Henok Hankinson weaved his way into the Victor zone, avoiding a check just inside the blue line, before continuing on down the right wing. He then passed the puck across the slot and Norton quickly fired a shot into an open side of the net, triggering instant jubilation for the Panthers (17-5-1).
“I don’t know how to describe it, it’s never happened to me before,” Norton said. “It’s unbelievable. Winning it with this group of guys, it’s unbelievable.”
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The moment the puck hit the back of the net, Pittsford helmets, sticks and gloves flew skyward while Victor players slumped to the ice, their hopes of repeating as Section V champions suddenly crushed.
“It stings for sure,” Blue Devils coach Mike Ferreri said, “but it was a great high school hockey game.”
Indeed, Norton’s goal brought to an end yet another nail-biting Section V instant classic. Panthers goalie Aden Brown made 44 saves; Victor goalie Max Pitts stopped 40 shots, which is why neither team could win in regulation.
Then again, that’s become the norm. The past five Class A championship games all have been decided in overtime. Pittsford needed three OTs to upend Victor in 2021. Victor and Penfield played four scoreless OTs last year before a shootout determined which team advanced to the regionals.
“Teams that are here are some of the best teams in the state,” said Ferreri, whose team finished 18-4-1.
Pittsford will play at the HarborCenter in downtown Buffalo at noon Saturday in the regionals against either Clarence or Orchard Park, who play Monday night in the Section VI title game.
As recent history goes, Sunday’s game ended relatively early – in the second OT. That’s thanks to the Pittsford line of Norton, Hankinson and Cole Mann, which created the winning goal off a fast-break rush.
“My linemates were working their tails off to get me the puck and I was just in the right space at the right time,” Norton said.
For Pittsford, the victory extended an amazing string of title-game success. Since Steve Thering became head coach in 2010, the Panthers have reached the championship game seven times. They’ve never lost. Winning clearly does not get old.
Two players, seniors Will Masaschi and Lucas Procious, were part of the three title teams: in 2019, in 2021 and again this year.
Masaschi was nearly the hero 15:05 into the first overtime but his bullet snap shot from the left point clanked off the post.
“I thought it was in,” he said.
Masaschi had three other good looks in overtime, as well, as the Panthers managed the tempo for much of the third period and the overtimes. The Panthers ability to play three lines throughout overtime kept the legs fresh, Thering said.
“After the third period I felt we were in complete control,” Norton said.
The territorial advantage was vastly different in the first period, however. Victor outshot Pittsford 20-8 and took a 1-0 lead when Mike Peluso’s shot from the left point zipped past Brown’s glove and into the top right corner of the net.
It was the only time on 45 shots that Brown failed to block, smother or deflect to safety a Blue Devils shot.
“We weathered an early storm shot-wise and goal-wise,” Thering said.
Brown wasn’t overly concerned about the early pressure, however.
“There were a lot of point shots, that’s pretty much their whole offense, from the point,” Brown said.
After piling up 20 shots in the first 17 minutes, Victor fired only 25 more on Brown over the final 56 minutes.
“We did a real good job shutting them down,” Brown said.
Pittsford scored the tying goal late in the second period on a power play when Bradley Pollard attacked off right wing, drove wide around the defense to the net and was able to chip a shot past Pitts.
Both teams had power plays down the stretch. Victor couldn’t capitalize on two third-period power plays while Pittsford failed on one. They each had the man advantage once in the first overtime as well.
But stingy defense is a trademark for both. The Panthers limited top-seeded McQuaid to one goal winning the semifinal matchup 2-1. Victor gave up just 22 goals all season heading into Sunday.
“We don’t give up many quality chances and they don’t give up many quality chances,” Ferreri said.
The one that Pittsford created in the second overtime was the difference, with Norton firing home the Hankinson pass into a wide open net.
“It wasn’t the most challenging goal I’ve ever scored,” Norton said, “but it might be the best.”
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