WEST GOSHEN — Maybe it’s just coincidental that every other year since 2012, West Chester Rustin has faced Springfield (Delco) in the Flyers Cup A championship game.
But maybe it’s almost destiny that in all three of those games in 2012, 2014 and now 2016, Rustin has won to reach the state championship with a 4-1 final.
“You don’t ask the hockey gods questions like that – you just thank them and go to bed,” said head coach Nick Russo. “It’s crazy.”
The Golden Knights won the coveted Flyers Cup A championship Friday night in front of a packed crowed for the third consecutive year.
It’s not unprecedented to see a team three-peat as A champions, though it is a rarity as it was only done once before by Radnor from 2002 to 2004.
“It’s just surreal,” Russo said.
The championship is Rustin’s sixth overall, an accomplishment achieved in just an astounding eight years.
The win didn’t come easily, despite what the scoreboard may show, especially in the third period.
With Springfield trailing by just two goals in the third period, the Cougars threw everything they could at goaltender Jason Grande, out-shooting Rustin 16-7.
But Grande was on top of his game, just as he always seems to be in the big games, and stopped every shot in the third while Hayden Karnick tacked on one more goal for good measure — or for the irony of the score.
“They’re a great team,” Russo said. “They fought hard and are worthy of being a champ, too. We both had some really good games down the stretch and everybody took each other to the brink (in the tournament). It was tight right up to the end.”
For the seniors on Rustin, the last three years have brought nothing but championships for them, amassing two Ches-Mont titles, three Flyers Cup titles and at least two state championships, with a possible third to be added in a week.
“We’re a dynasty and we always find a way to win,” said captain Derik Semetti. “It feels amazing to be able to do this three years in a row and winning out as a senior. We have one game left to hopefully win.”
Unlike the previous two championship years, Russo admits this season has been the hardest on him coaching the team and himself personally.
“It has just been such a long year,” he said. “All those freshman and trying to come back and three-peat and I lost my dad in October. That was hard. He never got to see me win a game as a coach, but he did now (from Heaven), so I’m pretty excited about that.”
For all the hard times this year, there also have been some celebrations, especially as of late.
In Rustin’s win over Unionville on Wednesday in the semifinals, Russo achieved his 300th win as a high school hockey head coach. In Friday’s championship win, it marked the coach’s 200th win with Rustin.
“You’re always going to have a couple problems, but we overcame them and at the end, we really came together as a team in this tournament,” Semetti said.
Perhaps this season, with all of the ups and downs on and off the ice, will go down as one of the best in Rustin’s history because of the way the team has been able to find ways to win, even with a roster so varied by age.
“It’s crazy because there is such an age difference,” Russo said. “There are 13 or 14 seniors and 17 freshman. It was like, ‘Wait, these guys are going on dates and these guys are being babysat.’ It was the toughest year for me. There were a lot of issues trying to find the lines that would work. It was just that kind of year.”
Now, Rustin will return to Penn State to fight for its third consecutive state title on March 19, which hasn’t been done since 2002.
Russo credits his coaching staff as being a big part of the reason why the team has been able to go as far as they have.
“I have the best staff there is,” he said. “We haven’t left my basement in weeks. It smells pretty bad down there with a lot of empty pizza boxes and game film all over the place. I really think that’s what separates us from everybody us. We prepare as a staff. These guys put so much time and effort as volunteers to prepare the team.”