PHILADELPHIA — It’s not the first time Malvern Prep senior Joey Abel has played a hockey game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, but the game Sunday was one he’ll remember for a long time.
In a “Broad Street Battle of the Preps” special Thanksgiving hockey showdown between Malvern and La Salle, the Friars fought back twice to come out with a 3-2 win.
Scoring all three goals was Abel, with the third one being tallied with just 21 seconds left in the game.
“There’s no better feeling,” Abel said. “It’s the biggest stage of anyone’s career here right now with all of our fans from the school coming out. It’s awesome to come from behind and beat a team like La Salle.”
With the game knotted at two in the final minutes of the third and La Salle (2-1-1) pressing, Malvern (4-0-1) iced the puck. It was at that point head coach Dave Dorman called a timeout with 33.3 seconds left.
“I was looking at (La Salle’s) bench to see if they were going to call the timeout and they did not and we needed it,” Dorman said. “We needed it more so for anything to get some fresh legs with the guys we had out there. We tried to draw up a play, but with any faceoff play, the failure rate is significantly higher than the success rate, but you still want to have an idea or at least a plan going in.”
The plan didn’t go at all the way it was discussed during that time out, as Abel laughed about after the game, but the end result was more than Malvern could have asked for.
“Coach drew up a play for us and that was not the play we scored on at all, but it worked out,” Abel said. “Credit to (Dorman) for rallying the troops during the timeout.”
Malvern was able to create a 3-on-1 coming down the ice during those last 30 seconds and it was Abel, off a perfect pass from Jimmy Bell.
“As Jimmy took it wide, I saw we had a 3-on-1 developing, so I just drove to the net,” Abel said. “He slid it over to me and I saw a 4-by-6 red thing and put the black thing through it. I heard it hit the back post and there’s no greater sound than that.”
But all the celebrations with 21 seconds left in the game wouldn’t mean anything if it weren’t for junior goaltender Matthew Hollingshead and his stellar play right from the drop of the puck.
Malvern didn’t get off to the start it wanted, leaving the door open for a good team such as La Salle to score, which they did, within the first six minutes of the game, but that didn’t faze Hollingshead.
“Obviously there are nerves going into the big game at the Wells Fargo, but once I got a few shots, I settled in,” he said. “They got a quick goal, but I bounced back. They’re going to score, so I just try to make as many saves as I can and keep it simple.”
In fact, Hollingshead made 43 saves in the game, keeping his team in it the entire way through.
“The team was able to weather that initial storm and I think it’s a true testament to their character,” Dorman said. “To be able to work through that and stick together without getting down on one another and pointing fingers, (instead) regrouping, they just did a good job. They let their character prevail in the end.”
Malvern was able to battle back twice from a one-goal deficit – once on the power play and another short-handed.
But it was the even strength, 3-on-1 goal that counted the most for Malvern and it was even more fitting that it came from the player who kept his team’s head up the most during the game.
“It’s not just him getting that game-winning goal – it was his leadership on the bench during that first period where he was challenging the guys to stay positive and stick together,” Dorman said. “Truthfully, that’s the difference. It is an attitude and mentality thing. It’s easy when there’s adversity to look for an excuse and it’s tempting. The guys were able to resist that temptation and fight through that.”
It is, without question to both the players and the coaches, that the win is the biggest of the season so far for Malvern, who remains without a loss.
“Going into the game I said this would be our biggest test and after this game we’ll know where we are in the grand scheme of things,” Dorman said. “I think La Salle is an excellent, deep hockey team. They’re big, strong, fast and skilled and well coached. Just the fact that we were able to find a win is great and it was such an exciting thing to be a part of. I don’t think it gets any more exciting for a high school athlete.”