B's Make History in Three-Peat; Sweeney Scores OT Winner for Title
FOXBORO, MA-The Junior Bruins gutted their way to a thrilling 2-1 over time victory over the Tri State Selects in the championship game of the Empire League. The Bruins got a brilliant performance from goalie Tyler Holske who made 23 saves in the game and goals from Wes Russell and Roscoe Sweeney.
The Bruins made history in the win becoming the only team in league history to win the playoff championship three times in a row.
The Bruins, who had lost to Tri State the day before 4-3, had fatigue to battle with all game since they played earlier that morning in a must win game with the Monarchs and were playing their fourth game in just 55 hours and Tri State had all day to rest up for the final.
The two teams exchanged scoring chances but were unable to solve each other's goalies. That was until Tommy Phillips broke down the right wing side beating a Bruins defender and heading in on Holske. Phillips' shot crossed the goal line and the linesmen signaled a goal. Play continued because it looked to most in the rink that the puck never crossed the line except for the linesmen. The ref was up ice and was not in position to make the call. After a brief discussion, the ref signaled a goal and the Selects were up 1-0. With Fasthockey broadcasting the game the coaches and refs were all able to view the questionable goal and could clearly see the puck never crossed the line and hit the post and came directly back out into the crease.
The Bruins put that bad break and luck behind them and continued to work at tying the game up. They did just that when Russell, who was a beast on the blue line all game playing his best game to date, scored on a shot from the right point five minute later.
The teams played the next 33 minutes of regulation scoreless and that sent both teams to their locker rooms to prepare for sudden death overtime.
It took just over seven minutes into overtime for the Bruins to score the game winner but that was not without some tense moments in front of the Bruins' net. On three shifts the Selects had sustained pressure on the Bruins and Holske and each time the B's team defense answered the bell and kept the puck out of the net.
On the championship clinching goal the Bruins used smart positional play, their speed, tenacity on the forecheck and good habits to pot the winner. In most cases it is the "little things" that add up to wins and this goal was an example of that. There were 6-7 "little things" that all led to the end result.
The play started with Steve Ginand and Kyle Webb holding the blue line and forcing Tri State to chip the puck into the neutral zone. Webb collected the puck, stayed on the offensive side of the red line, held the puck to allow the forwards to regroup and get onside and then put a soft dump into the Selects' zone. That soft dump allowed the B's forecheckers time to get on top of the Selects' defensemen.
Roscoe Sweeney, who led the league in playoff scoring with 12 points, forced the Selects' D-man behind the net to cough the puck up. Logan Romano, second in the league in playoff scoring with 11 points, was on top of the turnover immediately and collected the puck and looked to hit line mate Cody Learned who was in the high slot.
Learned descended on the slot, collected the pass from Romano, and fired the puck on net. Brandon DiLibero, the Selects' goalie, handled the shot but could not control his rebound and both Learned and Sweeney had stopped on the net for any loose rebound. They were rewarded when Sweeney collected the puck on his back hand, moved it to his forehand to the left of DiLibero and shot it into the empty net (right). That emptied the Bruins' bench as the team celebrated a remarkable playoff run.
"I am as proud of this championship and team as any other we have had," Chris Masters commented following the game. "This team has had more ups and downs than any other and persevered through it all, stayed committed to game plan and we got major contributions from every player on our team at one time or another. When you give up an average of one and a half to two years to each team you play, and those are the best teams in the league, it is really a remarkable achievement for this team. Just getting through the first round and beating South Shore, Bay State and the Monarchs was tough enough. To come back and battle the way they did, especially on Sunday, when the players were exhausted, is something special."
The Bruins now have a 29-2-1 record at Empire playoffs, have been to the championship game each of the four years they have been in the league and have now won three in a row. Two other times a team had a chance to three-peat at playoffs and fell short. This team is now a part of Empire and Bruins history.
They have a chance to write an additional chapter to that history when they head to USA Hockey Nationals March 27-31 at NESC in Marlboro, MA.