A third-period, come-from-behind victory over the team that had their number during the regular season has propelled the St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves to a berth in the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic high school boys’ hockey final.
Brebeuf scored two unanswered goals in the final period to edge the St. Thomas More Knights, 3-2, at Morgan Firestone Arena on Tuesday (Feb. 25).
The Braves advance to Thursday’s HWCAA championship game against the first-place Cardinal Newman Cardinals, who took the other semi-final, 2-1, over the Bishop Tonnos Titans.
Despite finishing ahead of third-place St. Thomas More in the final standings, Brebeuf dropped both of its league starts against the Knights — 6-3 on Dec. 16 and 4-1 on Feb. 18.
“They took it to us in that first game,” said Brebeuf coach Mark Fama. “They beat us bad. That game kind of woke us up. That was the catalyst for us. We didn’t lose in our next seven games.”
In their second meeting with More, Fama said it was a one-goal margin until the Knights scored on a penalty shot and then added an empty-net goal.
“We weren’t being outplayed today,” Fama said of the game which saw More skate to a 2-0 lead. “Their goals were opportunistic. We just got caught a little flat-footed.
“So I said to the guys, ‘keep that pressure on.’ A two-goal lead is the toughest lead in hockey to keep.”
Jordan Lenko and Daniel Palladino accounted for the More goals. Palladino also had an assist.
Zach Bramwell, who opened the scoring for Brebeuf, set up the winner by linemate Matt Hogan with four minutes, 51 seconds remaining. On a rush down the left wing, Bramwell deked out two defenders before making a perfect crossing pass which Hogan converted.
“That was unreal,” Hogan said of the winning goal. “It was all Bramwell. I just finished it off. It was beautiful.”
Hogan said the Braves were determined to reach the finals and they weren’t prepared to lose for a third straight time to More. “So we came out hard in the third,” he said.
The tying goal for Brebeuf was scored on a snap shot from the slot by Connor Maitz with 8:30 remaining.
Knights’ coach Chris Risidore said More may have been overconfident heading into the final period with the lead, especially having already beaten Brebeuf twice. “Psychologically, you think it’s over,” Risidore said.
More complained to the officials about what it thought should have been an icing call against Brebeuf with 10 seconds left on the clock. A faceoff in the Brebeuf end is something the Knights could have used at that point. The officials, however, said the puck went off a More player’s stick.
“We have three set plays for less than five seconds in a game,” Risidore said. “We have six guys set. Two guys take the draw. The first guy takes the man and the second guy comes in, takes the puck and throws it to the man in front. He can get a shot off in three seconds. We have won games doing that.
“As a coach, standing on the bench who has also refereed in the past, it was clearly icing. Unfortunately, it was a missed call. But that’s OK. People make mistakes. Calls don’t always go your way.”
At Rosedale Arena, Cardinal Newman also won in exciting fashion. Jake Plumb scored from the point with 38 seconds remaining to snap a tie and give the Cardinals the victory. That qualifies the Cardinals for their first league final since 2008-09.
The HWCAA title game is scheduled for noon Thursday at Mountain Arena.
The girls’ championship goes Wednesday (Feb. 26) at noon between the Bishop Tonnos Titans (6-2-2) and the St. Thomas More Knights (7-2-1) at Morgan Firestone Arena. Semi-finals on Monday saw More blank Cardinal Newman, 3-0, and Tonnos outscore Bishop Ryan, 6-2.