The GNY Stars Bantam A team skated their way to the LIAHL Championship in thrilling fashion on Monday night in Dix Hills. After finishing in 1st place and earning the top seed for the playoffs, the Stars had their sights set on making it a clean sweep by securing the Championship trophy. They took a big first step by beating the Dix Hills Hawks in their semifinal to advance to the final game against the Long Beach Lightning.
The two teams split their season series with the home team each time earning the win so the neutral site would make this matchup even more interesting. After a tense and tightly played scoreless first period the Stars broke through on the power play in the second as Jeremiah Ryan came out from behind the net and hoisted a beautiful backhand over the goalie's blocker and into the top shelf. But the lead was short lived as one of the Lightning weaved his way through a few Star's players unmolested and roofed it to tie the game at 1.
The game would only stay tied for a few more minutes though as the Stars once again took the lead when Donato Cuzzolino raced down the left side and ripped a shot off the crossbar. Mayhem ensued as the goalie could not locate the puck and the scramble in front resulted in Eric Kushnir banging home it home for a 2-1 lead. This time the Stars did not relinquish the lead right away as the team played smart defensive hockey only allowing the Lightning four shots for the rest of the game upon taking the lead for the second time.
The third period started the same way for the Stars as they pressured the Lightning feverishly to force turnovers and rarely allowed them puck possession in the offensive zone. However, all it takes is one opportunity to be capitalized on and the Lightning seized that moment on a turnover in the Star's defensive zone with just under 6 minutes to play to once again knot the game this time at 2. The pressure mounted as the Stars took a penalty with just over 5 minutes to play. Jeremiah Ryan and Michael McGowan created multiple scoring chances during their shorthanded work to no avail until finally at the end of the kill, Ryan stole the puck in the Lightning zone, fought off a defender and slid the puck across to McGowan in front where he one timed it through the legs for a 3-2 lead with 3 minutes left. The team clamped down defensively even harder after that and refused to let the Lightning generate anything. That stinginess led to some insurance with a minute left as McGowan intercepted a Lightning defensive zone break out pass and came in all alone where he unleashed a laser over the goalie's shoulder. The bench erupted in jubilation as they sensed the culmination of their hard work this season yielding a well deserved championship.
A special mention to Erin Nilan who as the only goalie played every game this season and came up big in the championship game as the quality of shots far outweighed the quantity including 2 breakaways which she was able to stone the Lightning on.
Congrats to all the players, parents and Coaches Chris Mazzaro, Jimmy Carney and Justin Mazzaro on a great and unforgettable season!