With 4:45 left in the overtime period and 20 seconds on the power play, the ice was crowded with tired legs and sore bodies — but the heart of the Lions proved to be unrivaled as they worked until that last shot hit the back of the net for the golden goal.
The College’s game winner was scored by the player who perhaps epitomizes the ultimate athlete — one full of heart, leadership and unbelievable talent — senior captain and MVP recipient, Scott Rothlisberger, giving his team the GNCHC Championship title with a 4-3 OT win over rivals Millersville University.
“I just saw the puck hit the crossbar and go in, and immediately the only thing going through my head was to get my helmet and gloves off and meet my teammates to celebrate,” Rothlisberger said. “It was an unbelievable feeling that’s almost indescribable.”
And an indescribable feeling seemed to be a mutual one amongst the boys as their pure joy was obvious to any viewer who was watching a group of college kids throw their gloves into the air, cheering louder than ever and falling into hugs. It was certainly bittersweet for the team, as they accomplished their goal of winning the championship — their second in three years — all the while knowing it was the last college game they’d be playing with the team’s seniors.
“It’s a special group, it really is,” head coach Joseph Cucci said. “I’m kind of at a loss right now to explain how special they are. For this team, for everything that they accomplished this year, I think we had a little bit more pressure on ourselves with just how good we were. Expectations were so high that it was a little bit heavier for the seniors to come out here and complete it like they did. It’s just the ultimate testament to their character. They’re not just great athletes, they’re great kids.”
But the win didn’t come all that easy, as both teams came out to play, with the College also looking to redeem themselves after a loss to Millersville only about a week before.
Millersville ended the first period with a 1-0 lead, despite seeing some of the season’s best plays by players from the College’s defensive lines, including Rothlisberger, junior Nick Wilechansky, sophomore Matt Martin, junior Daniel Guglielmo and sophomore Gary L’Heureux.
However, the College’s offense lines never gave up, putting up 45 shots against their opponents. Their first goal came about three minutes into the second half — from the gold line consisting of seniors Anthony Santisi, John Czarnik and junior Alex D’Alessio — sporting a goal by Santisi off of an assist from D’Alessio.
With the competition level at its season’s highest, the College went down once again with another Millersville goal, until Rothlisberger put in a rocket from the point off of a pass from freshman forward Luke May, tying it up four minutes into the third. The line’s goal came after a continuously strong fore-check during the game from May’s line, including freshman Will Sulpizio and sophomore Evan Herrington.
“It was a spectacular game,” Cucci said. “I thought it was one of the best games we’ve been a part of this year. It was extremely well played on both sides. It was an emotional rollercoaster, but this team has had good mental toughness and they don’t give up. No matter what it is, we’re down a goal, we’re up by a goal — it doesn’t matter, they bring the same intensity, same effort and we were able to manage the momentum swings very well.”
And that they did, taking the lead for the first time in the game with 9:18 left in the third as sophomore Sal DiBrita blocked a shot in the College’s zone, only to bring the puck down to the opposing zone with line mates seniors Kush Patel and Jed Plester. It was Plester who scored the third goal of the night, with the assist going to DiBrita.
Millersville ultimately found their way back late in the third, though, tying it up and forcing the game into overtime. It proved not to be enough with the College coming out on top under the leadership of Rothlisberger.
“When we got into the locker room before overtime I just wanted to make sure the team was going to have energy moving forward,” Rothlisberger said. “I was just telling them that this is the moment that we as hockey players live for. I just (focused on) keeping the team loose and excited to have a chance to be a hero.”
But Rothlisberger wasn’t the only obvious hero of the game, as junior goalie David Laub, also an MVP recipient, played a phenomenal game, saving 49 of 52 shots for the College.
“During the game I was just trying to stay focused and calm and not let the pressure of the game get to me,” Laub said. “I was just thinking that we have to win. Losing wasn’t an option. (Winning) was the best feeling I’ve ever had and also the biggest relief. I just kept telling myself that we had to win and I wasn’t going to let them score on me, because as a goalie, confidence is everything.”
As the College came out on top with a statistical win to get the championship title, it was undeniably apparent to the audience that it wasn’t just a win for the books or themselves, but a win for each other and especially for the seniors.
“I love all these guys like my family and we’re like a family on and off the ice,” Rothlisberger said. “I think that it showed with the chemistry of the team. We won a championship because we were willing to do anything for each other and we work so well together. This means the world to me, (I’ve) been a hockey player ever since I was rollerblading around my house when I was two years old, and to go out on top like this with these guys is an amazing feeling.”
And although it’s the end of an era for the future graduates in their college careers, it’s certainly a feeling they’ll remember and a moment they’ll always be able to share together as a team.
“The fact that this was my last game hasn’t really hit home yet,” Rothlisberger said. “(I’m) way too excited and happy for our team right now, although it’s going to be tough not being able to strap it up with these guys again. It’s going to be an adjustment to not be a hockey player anymore, but for now I’m going to enjoy this one with the boys.”