Rustin, the third seed in the conference playoffs, knocked off East, 2-1, at Ice Line on Thursday to win back-to-back Ches-Mont titles.
“It could have gone either way,” said Rustin head coach Nick Russo. “The shots were pretty even, the goaltending was great and everybody played well both ways, but the only thing that was the difference was we played more physical. We wore them down.”
Rustin started from behind, though, as East’s Dylan McLaughlin opened the scoring over halfway through the opening period, but Rustin used its man-advantage to score two power-play goals, which ended up being the difference maker in the game.
Rustin also had a full roster to its advantage as well, something East hadn’t seen all season long.
“The last two games, we’ve had a full roster,” Russo said. “It makes a difference. It has been nice.”
“It hurts us sometimes,” Russo said. “You have to play physical in this league and any league. The reason we lost some games out west in the state championships was because the beat the crap out of us. That’s how they play and that’s what we gear our game for.”
With great goaltenders such as Rustin’s Jason Grande and East’s Joe Stacy, it came as no surprise to the players that the game would be low scoring and decided by a slim margin.
“You always know it’s going to be a close game when we’re playing East,” said Rustin captain Derik Semetti. “The game was exciting. It was great to play a team with that kind of skill and our kind of skill with the physicality and trying to wear them down and do whatever we can to get an edge on them.”
Rustin had a little bit of luck on its side as well to go along with its strong play from the drop of the puck.
Late in the second, East’s top scorer, Eddie Russell, had a perfect opportunity to tie the game up when he had a wide-open net, but his shot went just wide. That was on top of another bad break for East when the puck seemingly crossed the goal line, but was waved off by the referee.
“(The win) feels a lot sweeter because it was our rival, East,” Semetti said. “They had our number in the beginning of the season. It was a good measurement knowing that we can play with any team – them being one of the best teams in the state. It’s a confidence booster going into the Flyers Cup.”
As great a feeling as winning the Ches-Mont Championship is, Rustin knows it’s only one piece of the postseason puzzle it wants to complete.
Starting Feb. 29, Rustin will compete in the Flyers Cup tournament ‘A’ bracket, and battle for the chance to go to the State Championship.
“This is the first step to the Triple Crown,” Russo said. “We just won the Kentucky Derby and we’ll see how we do next time in the Preakness.”
“(The bye) is nice because we don’t travel and it gives us an opportunity to heal a little bit,” Russo said. “We just played three physical games in four days. It’s nice to have that little break.”