WEST GOSHEN — It was a battle of will and heart and West Chester Henderson had just a little bit more of it to earn the right to play in the Flyers Cup A Championship game March 16.
The Warriors, who have made a name for themselves this season as the team that never quits, came away with a big 5-3 win over No. 4 Springfield in the semifinals Thursday night at Ice Line.
“It’s the most inspiring thing,” said Henderson goaltender Connor Carroll. “Our team has worked so hard since day one. We had some low points in the season and we had some high ones. The other teams know we’re going to work our butts off every shift. We’re just going to battle it all we can. That’s just the kind of team we are.”
And once again, Henderson had to battle as just 12 seconds into the game, the Warriors found themselves down a goal.
“That wasn’t the start we wanted,” said Henderson head coach Scott DiRico. “I think they were a little nervous and came out slow. But all this team is about is perseverance. In any game all year, they just never worry. They stick to the gameplan and they work hard and it paid off.”
A goal so quickly can rattle a goaltender, but not Carroll.
Thanks to the people around him, the player he once was is now in the past and a better one has taken its place this year.
“Honestly, I probably owe it to my brother and my goalie coach,” Carroll said. “I used to have really bad problems with my emotions and my anger, but I learned to let it go. My coach Dave Marlin, my brother, my dad and my whole family kind of just taught me the mental side of things.
“I really concentrated on my mental game last year when I wasn’t playing high school and it’s the biggest step I have ever taken in my career. Once you change your mentality, once you just have a short memory and just take every shot for what it is, it’s completely game changing.”
But captain Matt Carreras got his team on the board and Henderson never trailed again, though they were a couple ties.
“(Springfield) is a physical team and they play just as hard as they possibly can, especially when they went down and played even harder,” DiRico said. “It was a huge test just to be able to harness emotions and be able to play through it, and it was good to see the kids managed that well.
“(Springfield) kept coming hard and they battled back 2-2 and they battled back again. It’s all about perseverance and (Henderson) just doesn’t quit.”
Henderson senior Eric Beren led the way for his team, notching a hat trick in the game, including the eventual game winner.
“Eric Beren is, besides just a great kid, an absolute workhorse on the ice,” DiRico said. “He’s as strong as it gets and no matter what goes on, his head is always there and is always ready to go. His physical ability and size is so much more than other kids his age.”
On top of that, Carroll was able to turn aside Springfield’s onslaught of shots throughout the game, stopping 27-of-30.
“Connor Carroll…what can you say?” DiRico said. “Both our goalies all year have been excellent and they both answer the bell. Connor certainly did tonight. It’s fun to options in goal and we have two excellent options.”
For many of the players on Henderson’s roster — including coaches — the semifinals had been the ending point.
In 2012, 2013 and 2014, Henderson has lost in the semifinals round of the tournament — not to mention in 2012 and 2013, it was at the hands of Springfield.
“That’s the biggest monkey that was taken off my back finally,” DiRico said. “These seniors have had three in total. For them to be able to pull it off, and that was even more adversity to be that team to finally do it. They just didn’t worry about it and that was their motto when they said it was just a new game and a new year — nothing to lose.”
But now, after falling short of the championship game for so many years, Henderson finds themselves with the ability to claim the Cup and earn the chance to play for the State Title.
Even DiRico couldn’t withhold his excitement at the end of the game when he joined his team as they skated in celebration toward the student section.
“I try to harness the emotions — you pick and choose your spots,” he said. “But this was exciting and being that Henderson is my alma mater, all I wanted to do was give back and give these kids a chance to experience what I did. I went to a Flyers Cup Final when I played and they work so hard.
“For them to be able to experience it now is awesome and that’s all I want for them. I want them to experience all that they can at this level and enjoy it.”
West Chester Rustin 9, Crestwood 3
West Chester Rustin seemed to have faced its toughest competition of the tournament in No. 19 Crestwood during the first period, but the Golden Knights were able to grind down their opponents and come away with a 9-3 win.
“We knew they played a short bench — they basically had two lines and four D,” said Rustin head coach Nick Russo. “They had a long bus ride, but they got off to a great start considering. That was not bus legs. They played their butts off, but I think it was too many trips, too many games and too many nights. But they are a good team.”
Crestwood, who hails from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area, became the first team from Northeastern Pennsylvania to even make it into the Flyers Cup tournament.
“It’s great for hockey,” Russo said. “First was Hershey and they have always been strong and now you have Scranton coming in. They’re legit.”
But now Rustin is one step closer to defending its State Title, but first the Golden Knights have to get through cross-street rival Henderson in a showdown for the Flyers Cup A Championship.
“We know each other pretty well, us and Henderson,” Russo said. “We’ve been to quite a few dances. Somebody’s going to go home with it, I just wonder which side of Westtown Road it’s going to go on.”