There was strictly pride on the line in Saturday night’s season finale for the Pilgrim and Toll Gate hockey teams, with no playoffs on tap for either squad.
The Titans left the rink as proud as they’ve been all year.
Thanks to two second-period goals and a dominant effort in net by senior Dave Stachurski – playing in his final game – Toll Gate found a way to finish its season on a high note with a 2-1 win over Pilgrim.
It was the second win for the Titans, who finished up at 2-15-0-1, with five points. But it was also their first win since Jan. 11, it avenged a loss to Pilgrim two months ago and it was their only win over the Pats in recent memory.
It meant a lot.
“This is a rivalry and it just feels good to beat them,” Stachurski said. “We’ve lost every single year I’ve played here and we’re playing kids I grew up with. It’s awesome to beat the friends you’ve played with.”
For Pilgrim, it was a disappointing way to end what was a disappointing year. The Pats finished 2-14-1-1, with six points, but were hoping to end the season on a two-game winning streak. They beat Mt. Hope 4-0 on Friday night.
“I was just telling my guys in there that that’s how our season went,” said Pilgrim head coach Chad Tvenstrup. “We competed with teams and just couldn’t put the puck in the net, or let too many goals in or had too many breakdowns from the goalie out. The results weren’t there.”
Pilgrim out-shot Toll Gate 22-12, including 9-3 in the final period, but Stachurski – one of two seniors on the team, along with Jesse Butler – simply wouldn’t let the Pats tie the game.
He pushed the puck away from Pilgrim’s Sam Adamo on an odd-man rush with 12 minutes to play, then did almost the exact same thing to Adamo again two minutes later. Bryant Palermo blistered two hard slap shots on Stachurski in the final two minutes as well, but neither came close to finding the back of the net.
“Dave, I think it’s the best game I’ve seen him play in two years,” said Toll Gate head coach Mike Champagne. “Just how he looked – he got big, got in front of the puck. He was a big piece of it.”
Pilgrim struck first in the game, as a back-and-forth first period looked like it would end 0-0 until the Pats’ Dean Russo spun around from the left circle and fired a puck at the right side of the goal that flew in with 2.7 seconds remaining. Adamo and Ryan Oatley assisted.
It didn’t take Toll Gate very long to tie the score. With 12:06 left in the second period – on the heels of an unsuccessful power play – the Titans’ John Sullivan skated to a puck thrown into the neutral zone by teammate Sean Vittum, and Sullivan carried it into the offensive zone. He made one move around a defender and fired a wrist shot at Pilgrim goalie Kam Murphy. The puck went over Murphy’s arm and into the net, tying the score at one.
“I feel like we’ve lost almost every game this season, but we keep pushing on,” Stachurski said. “We don’t give up. That’s the big thing – we never give up.”
Pilgrim controlled play the rest of the second period – when it had five men on the ice. The Pats were whistled for three penalties in the period to go along with three committed in the first period. Toll Gate committed two penalties of its own, but the choppiness of the game and the constant man in the box kept the Pats from truly threatening.
And all of a sudden, the Titans took the lead. After having only one shot on goal since Sullivan scored, Butler held the puck behind Pilgrim’s net with 3:41 left and saw a streaking Chris Williams headed for the low slot. A perfect pass hit Williams in the stick, and his one-timer shot into the net for a 2-1 lead.
“Butler, we tell him to take the ice when it’s there and not to force it,” Champagne said. “That was an example of it. He wraps it around, fumbles it and knows he’s going to get hit. Then he finds Chris right on the doorstep. We tell Chris to move his feet. He did a great job. He flies to the slot, makes the play. We don’t score a lot of pretty goals, but that was one of them.”
Pilgrim seemed in shock, but it was a familiar refrain. The Pats had been competitive in many games this season, but little mistakes and breakdowns constantly kept them out of the win column.
“This kind of puts it all in perspective for us,” Tvenstrup said.
The score remained that way into the third, when Pilgrim really started to dominate possession. But the Pats couldn’t solve Stachurski.
“I felt awesome,” Stachurski said. “I felt 110 percent all the way.”
Pilgrim kept up the pressure, but its comeback hopes took a serious hit with 1:08 left when it was whistled for its eighth penalty of the game.
The Pats were able to get possession shorthanded and then pull Murphy, giving them essentially an even strength opportunity in the final minute. Their best chance came on a rocket by Palermo with 38 seconds to go, but a kick save by Stachurski sealed the win.
“(The team is) excited for Jesse and Dave,” Champagne said. “Those guys mean a lot to them and they mean a lot to the program and us as coaches. It goes down the line and they’re happy for them. It’s a close group of kids and those guys really lead out in front and do everything we can ask them.”
Toll Gate missed out on the playoffs for the fifth straight year, while Pilgrim is on the outside looking in for the second consecutive season.
While the Titans will say goodbye to Butler and Stachurski, Pilgrim is losing six seniors off its team – Oatley, Denver Cherms, Adamo, Palermo, Joey Paliotte and Lukas Bauer.
“They’ll be missed,” Tvenstrup said. “Back on defense, we’ve got big shoes to fill with Bryant and Joey.”