The Bishop Hendricken hockey team took a 4-1 lead on Mount St. Charles early in the second period of Monday’s state championship game three. Just over three minutes later, the Mounties made it 4-2 then put a barrage of shots on net later in the period.
Hendricken goalie Billy Palmer and the Hawks’ defense held strong through that onslaught, but it was clear as the teams headed to the locker room that the Mounties weren’t going to go down without a fight.
It was easy to envision Hendricken holding on for dear life, trying to survive for 15 more minutes.
But the Hawks did a lot more than that.
They didn’t just hold on; they squeezed and pulled and tightened their grip. And they didn’t just survive – they thrived.
In the final 15 minutes of play, Hendricken allowed Mount to put just one solitary shot on net. They killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3 situation. They controlled the play. They didn’t let Mount even sniff a comeback.
When it was all said and done, the Hawks hadn’t held on to a championship.
They had taken it.
“We know that Mount’s a strong team and they always come back the strongest in the third period,” said junior defenseman Austin Navarro. “We made sure we always kept our composure and played full-tilt. We never held back. We just kept putting the pressure on.”
That paved the way for a remarkable period.
The Mounties had 20 shots on goal in the first two periods and were poised to keep them coming. In the six previous meetings between the teams this season, Mount averaged 38 shots on goal. That number was inflated by two games at Adelard Arena, where the pace is always fast and furious, but it was still reasonable to expect a Mount barrage.
Hendricken just didn’t let it happen.
“We wanted this bad,” said senior defenseman Nick Bodziony, one of the team’s captains. “We worked really hard all season. We decided 15 more minutes, we were just going to leave everything we had on the ice.”
If that wasn’t motivation enough, the Hawks had a memory to look back on. In game one of last year’s state championship series, the Hawks carried a 4-3 lead into the third period, only to see the Mounties score twice on their way to a 5-4 victory. They then won game two and swept the series.
“We came in 4-2, and we remembered last year when we were up going into the third period and we blew it,” said senior defenseman Dan Nolte. “This year, we didn’t want to let that happen. We knew we couldn’t let up, and we just came out there and gave it our all. Kids were staying out there for one minute, two minutes, blocking shots – whatever it took.”
The Hawks started the third period with 1:20 left on a power play, so they knew they had a good shot to keep the Mounties in check out of the gates. When Mount picked up another penalty just 1:15 into the period, their prospects looked even better.
But very quickly, the Hawks found themselves on the defensive. After Mount killed off the second penalty, Hendricken picked up a penalty of its own with 7:28 left. Just 1:08 later, another Hawk was sent to the box, giving the Mounties a 5-on-3 for 52 seconds.
Mount called a timeout, gearing up to make the most of its chance and to finally make its run.
“The 5-on-3 was a huge problem,” Navarro said. “That could have been a momentum-changer, but we knew if we stopped that, we knew we could put the game away.”
That’s just what Hendricken did.
The Hawks’ penalty killers cleared the puck twice to defuse the 5-on-3 then didn’t let Mount set anything up for the remaining 1:08 of the power play.
In the whole sequence, Mount didn’t get off a shot.
“Our penalty kill was outstanding,” said head coach Jim Creamer. “It’s been that way for a lot of the year. Those guys did everything we could have asked for. It started from Palmer on out. Great efforts.”
The teams finally went back to skating at even strength with 4:20 left in the game, and as the Hawks continued to carry the play, the minutes seemed to tick away faster. Another Hendricken penalty with 3:29 left did nothing to stem the tide.
The Hawks were still in control.
“We talked about getting it in deep, getting a lot of shots,” Nolte said. “If we had sat back, they would have been all over us.”
And the Hawks certainly didn’t sit back.
“Our coach was telling us to keep it on an even keel and always keep our box tight,” Navarro said. “It’s tough and there were a couple of times we were running around, but we just kept our composure. We got the puck out of the zone when we needed to. We kept it away from our goalie and made sure he could see the puck when he needed to.”
For their part, the Mounties might have actually preferred a full period of even-strength skating. The combination of penalty killing and power plays took a toll on their special teams units.
But all in all, the Mounties just couldn’t make their push.
“We’re not deep enough to have those special teams situations so close,” said Mount coach Dave Belisle. “But Hendricken – they had their legs, they had their strength, they had the momentum and they had their confidence going. We couldn’t break it in the third period.”
And the Hawks just kept skating. Mount never seriously threatened for the rest of the period, and Hendricken’s Matt Creamer scored an open-net goal with 49 seconds left to ice the victory.
It was an exclamation point, a finishing touch on an amazing period of hockey. With the championship hanging in the balance, the Hawks reached up and grabbed it. And in a season where the Mounties were always hanging around, always ready to make a run, the Hawks took the teeth out of their final push.
And they left with a championship.
“It’s crazy,” Nolte said. “To go out on top as a senior, you can’t ask for anything more. To give it your all for five months, practicing every day – it’s all worth it. It’s the best.”