By RYAN VANDERSLOOT For The York Dispatch
There were a number of reasons why the Central York ice hockey team finished on top of the Central Penn Interscholastic Hockey League Tier 1 regular-season standings this season.
Playing smart hockey was probably the biggest of them.
Monday night in the losers’ bracket finals of the Bears’ Cup playoffs, the Panthers failed to play smart when it counted after taking a 3-1 lead late in the second period at the York City Ice Rink.
The Panthers allowed their emotions to get the best of them and, as a result, saw their hopes of defending their 2011 Bears’ Cup victory disappear against visiting Cumberland Valley.
A scrum in front of the net resulted in a five-minute major penalty called against the Panthers for a punch thrown by a Central player. To make matters worse, another penalty just a minute later resulted in the Panthers playing two men down for a full two minutes.
The Eagles saw a golden opportunity and took full advantage. In the opening minutes of the third period, CV cashed in by scoring three power-play goals to retake the lead. The visitors then iced things off with 46.5 seconds left when Collin Bradley completed a hat trick with an empty-net tally, giving the Eagles a 5-3 victory.
“They took advantage of our dumb plays,” Central’s Kenny Gross said. “They deserved to win more than us. It’s that simple.”
CV took the lead in the first period on Bradley’s first tally of the night — one of four power-play goals for the Eagles.
The Panthers appeared to turn things around with a big second period. Dylan Zavetsky knotted the game with a score with 7:42 left in the second before Central scored a pair of power-play goals by Jared Williamson and Stehl Taylor to make it a 3-1 contest with 1:37 left in the stanza.
But just when it looked like the Panthers were in command, the wheels started to fall off.
Seconds later, Central found itself down a man for five minutes after a Panther player was caught throwing a punch. That infraction resulted in a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.
Just 60 seconds later, they went down another man when a Central player was penalized for a high stick with just nine seconds left in the period.
That set up an epic third period for the visiting Eagles. John Gandolfo scored just nine seconds into the period to cut the deficit to one. And then 45 seconds after that, CV tied the contest on Bradley’s second power-play goal of the night.
With the five-minute major winding down, the Eagles took the lead when Shane Sellar beat Central goalie Tallen Stroman with just more than 12 minutes left.
“It was our fault,” said Gross, whose team managed just three shots in the final period. “We can’t blame anyone else but ourselves.”
The Panthers had a chance when they earned a power play midway through the third, but failed to capitalize.
Then, with the game winding down, Central pulled Stroman in an all-out effort to find the equalizer, but the Eagles cleared the puck out of the zone and Bradley corralled it and buried it into the empty net.
Drought over for CV coach: The victory set off a wild celebration on the CV side and was particularly satisfying for Head Coach Mike Lombardi. The longtime Eagles coach has never made it to the Bears’ Cup finals at Hersheypark Arena during his tenure and was overjoyed to finally break his drought.
“I’ve been coaching here for 14 years in the league,” he said. “And I’ve been wanting to get to that final Bears’ Cup game so bad. Just to be there makes me so happy.”
The Eagles, who finished fifth in the regular-season standings, will face third-seeded Hershey at 9 p.m. Friday night. Hershey sent CV to the losers’ bracket last week, 4-3.
Flyers’ Cup up next: While the Panthers’ quest to win back-to-back Bears’ Cup titles has now ended, Gross and company will have little time to lament their loss. Central is back on the ice Tuesday night at 8:15 to face Downingtown East at IceLine Arena for the Flyers’ Cup playoffs. The Panthers enter the single-elimination tournament as the No. 10 seed.
“It might be tough (to recover from this), but I think it might be a good thing that we’re playing again tomorrow,” Gross said.
– Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.