HATFIELD TOWNSHIP—Down but not out, late in the final round of Thursday night’s Class AAA Flyers Cup semifinal Thursday night, LaSalle rallied to score a dramatic knockout win.
Daniel Sambuco and Sam Lipkin scored goals 11 seconds apart in the final 28 seconds of the third period to give the Explorers a 5-4 win over Holy Ghost Prep at Hatfield Ice. Lipkin’s game winner, which came with 17 seconds remaining in regulation time, marked the first and only time the top-seeded Explorers held the lead in a game that saw them score all five of their goals in the third period.
With the win, the top-seeded Explorers (21-6) will move on to Sunday evening’s final at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m.) where they will try to win their 11th Flyers Cup. Their opponent will be sixth-seeded and defending champion St. Joseph’s Prep, a 6-2 winner over Malvern Prep in the other Class AAA semifinal that was played Thursday at Ice Line.
Trailing by a goal as the clock wound down inside the final minute of the third period, LaSalle’s chances weren’t exactly bright. But Explorer head coach Wally Muehlbronner remained upbeat and his players kept battling.
“The way we’ve been able to score throughout the season I thought we could get one,” Muehlbronner said. “I sure didn’t think we’d get two.”
Sambuco tied the game for LaSalle with 38 seconds left when his shot from the deep left wing beat Firebird goaltender Sean Joyce inside the far post.
The Explorers won the ensuing faceoff and played the puck into the Firebirds’ zone before Lipkin collected it and scored the game winner to send his team to the finals and hand the fourth-seeded Firebirds (9-14) the loss, their fifth against LaSalle this season.
“I was really proud of our effort,” said Holy Ghost Prep coach Gump Whiteside. “I thought we came out really hard, I thought we played a really good game. But 38 seconds is 38 seconds, and it’s unfortunate. They capitalized on bad breaks.
The Firebirds had the better of the play in a hard-hitting but scoreless opening period that saw them outshoot the Explorers 11-6. They took a 2-0 lead into the second session on the strength of goals from Colin Costello at the 6:48 mark and a shorthanded effort from Byron Hartley at 9:49.
Both came off Explorer breakdowns in their own defensive zone. The margin might have been wider had it not been for the work of Aidan McCabe in the LaSalle net.
“We never would have gotten to this point if McCabe didn’t play the way he did,” Muehlbronner said. “He stopped four breakaways in the first two periods.”
The Explorers served notice at the start of the third period that they were still around. It took Sambuco just 53 seconds to cut the deficit in half. Collin Kleiser tied the game at the 3:09 mark on a wrister from the left point.
Evan Mudrick put Holy Ghost Prep back in front when he split two defenders near the LaSalle blue line and went up the middle to beat McCabe at 4:54. Sambuco tied the game for the second time when he went down the left wing and behind the Firebird net before finding Lipkin in front, who tucked the puck in the net with 4:38 remaining.
It took Dan Behr just 63 seconds to respond for the Firebirds off a feed from Alex D’Angelo, who just minutes earlier had been helped off the ice after suffering an apparent leg injury during a collision.
At that point, Holy Ghost Prep was 3:35 away from victory, but their quest came up short.
“I thought Ghost played a tremendous game,” Muehlbronner said. “They took it to us for two periods strong, I think we came out in the third and we played the way we’re capable of playing.”
Holy Ghost Prep 0 2 2—4
LaSalle 0 0 5—5
Second-period-period goals: Colin Costello (HGP) from Byron Hartley, 6:48; Hartley (HGP) from Costello, 9:59 (sh).
Third-period goals: Daniel Sambuco (L) unassisted, :53; Collin Kleiser (L) from Zach Baker and Michael Casey, 3:09; Evan Mudrick (HGP) rom Alex D’Angelo, 4:54; Sam Lipkin (L) from Sambuco and Casey, 12:22; Dan Behr (HGP) from D’Angelo, 13:25; Sambuco (L) from Lipkin, 16:33; Lipkin (L) from Casey and Sambuco, 16:47.
Shots: Holy Ghost Prep 32, LaSalle 34; Saves: Sean Joyce (HGP) 29, Aidan McCabe (L) 28.