The St. Albans Hockey team entered Thursday’s IAC Tournament Championship game against Landon with history on their minds. The Bulldogs were hosting the final at Fort Dupont Ice Arena for the first time ever with the opportunity to win the program’s first-ever tournament title. And this was played out with just three weeks remaining until the historic arena that overlooks downtown DC is razed to make way for construction of a new modern arena that the Bulldogs will call home starting in 2023. The game also marked the return of senior co-captains Miles Gunty and James Baker to the STA lineup after missing several games with injuries. Their presence was a big lift for the hosts in their biggest game of the season to date. And the Bulldogs needed every minute they could get from them in a tightly contested game that went to overtime, then a decisive 5-round shootout before STA prevailed 2-1.
The game started at a furious pace with both teams looking for an early lead. Junior Goalie Benjamin Skowronek made several big saves for the Bulldogs including two point-blank shots from the slot in the first five minutes and a break-away mid-way through the period. Landon earned the first power play of the game with 3:25 left in the opening frame and peppered Skowronek with five of their 18 first-period shots. Skowronek was perfect through the first 15 minutes and Landon goalie Leo Quattrone stopped all six Bulldog shots that he faced to send the game into the second period scoreless.
Both teams picked up from where they left off to start the second with Gunty generating the first quality chance just 30 seconds into the period. He grabbed a puck along the high wall in the STA defensive zone, stepped around a forechecker, beat another man at the center-ice circle, swooped into the Bears’ zone from the left wing, and snapped a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle that barely missed the low corner to Quattrone’s glove side. The Bears responded on the next shift, poking a puck out of their zone that created a 2-1 for Ishaan Sethi and Reid Pehrkon. Sethi made a perfect feed to Pehrkon at the right faceoff dot and the freshman forward fired the puck into the left side of the net against Skowronek’s momentum as he slid across the crease to defend the shot, giving the Bears the first goal of the game 1:53 into the second period. Both teams locked down defensively for most of the rest of the period but also exchanged several high-quality scoring chances. Just two minutes after Landon’s goal, Gunty played keep-away behind the Bears’ net and into the right corner before spinning to his backhand and firing a pass to Witt Coburn on the opposite side of the net. Quattrone sprung across the crease just in time to stop Coburn’s quick release that was labeled for the low corner on the near side. The Bears were whistled for their first penalty with 3:54 left in the period. The STA power play could not muster many quality chances as the Bears killed off the penalty to keep their 1-0 lead. As the Bulldogs pressed for the tying goal late in the second, they were called for their second penalty of the game with 45 seconds left in the period. The Bulldogs killed the first 45 seconds to go into the second intermission down 1-0.
Coming out of the locker room for the third period, the STA players and coaches knew they had to kill the remaining 1:15 of the Landon power play, then start hunting for the tying goal. However, the Bulldogs were called for another penalty 50 seconds into the period, setting up the Bears with a 2-man advantage for 25 seconds and another 1:35 of 5-4 power play time beyond that. Gunty, Charlie Irwin and Zachary Skowronek killed the two-man portion of the power play before Landon had an uncontested shot on the doorstep on which Benjamin Skowronek slid post-to-post and kicked away the puck with his leg pad. A few seconds later Zachary Skowronek found Gunty on the left wing at the Landon blue line where he stepped into the Landon zone and ripped a shot from the top of the circle that just missed the near high corner. John Grennan, Witt Coburn, Alex Tilton and Charlie Irwin killed off the rest of the penalty without yielding a shot. With just under 10 minutes left, Landon got loose for a 2-1 and Benjamin Skowronek made a huge save, again flashing his right pad, to keep the score 1-0.
The Bulldog bench was issued an unsportsmanlike penalty a few seconds later as they argued for a penalty on a big hit behind the STA net that they thought was high. Gunty, junior co-captain Peter Kaplan, Tilton and Zachary Skowronek killed the first 1:20 of the penalty without giving up a shot on goal. Charlie Irwin then found Gunty in the right circle in the Bears’ zone and Quattrone made a big save of his own on a missile that was headed for the top of the net. Irwin, Coburn, Will Roberts and Liam McCarthy killed the rest of the penalty to set up a nail-biting final 7 minutes with the Bears clinging to their 1-0 lead under increasing pressure from the Bulldogs. With under five minutes left, Benjamin Skowronek made a brilliant save on a dazzling 2-1 in which Landon’s puck carrier broke in on the right wing, spun 360 degrees and fired a perfect backhand pass to his streaking teammate at the goal mouth. Skowronek tracked the puck, pushed left to right in perfect butterfly position, and threw his blocker up to keep the Bulldogs’ hopes alive. Not to be outdone, Quattrone made a spectacular save of his own 30 seconds later. STA Sophomore Nils-Erik Kramer sped up the right wing with Zachary Skowronek and Irwin on a 3-2. Kramer floated a nifty saucer pass to Skowronek who fired a backhand off Quattrone’s pads. The rebound popped out to the slot where Irwin got his backhand on the puck sending it toward the open net when Quattrone slid back and did a full split to keep the puck out with his right leg pad.
St. Albans got the penalty they were looking for earlier in the period when Landon was called for elbowing with 3:45 left. Coach Finer used his timeout to set up the ensuing power play and Gunty provided the heroics. Kaplan and Tilton won a puck battle deep in the left corner and Kaplan found Skowronek on the blue line where the sophomore defenseman took two quick strides to open up a shooting lane, and quickly released a wrist shot that Quattrone kicked away with his left pad to a waiting Gunty who buried the tying goal with 2:28 left in regulation time. Neither team was going to go into a defensive posture to play for overtime. Just 15 seconds after the tying goal, Irwin and Kaplan got loose for a 2-1. With the Landon defenseman choosing to defend Kaplan in the slot, Irwin walked in from the left wing and sailed a shot just inches over the top of the net. Landon responded with an offensive flurry of their own as regulation time expired and the now-shirtless St. Albans student section urged the Bulldogs on using their shirts as rally towels.
IAC Tournament rules call for a 5-minute sudden death overtime followed by a 5-player shootout if neither team scores in the overtime. Landon came out firing in the overtime period with a wild offensive burst that saw Skowronek make 4 straight saves starting with a point-blank stop on a wide-open shooter from 10-feet out, a kickout of the rebound off that save, a scrambling dive to knock a puck away from the goal line and finally squaring up to vacuum up a shot from another open shooter from 10 feet. Unfazed, Kaplan blocked a shot a minute later to spring himself, Irwin and Gunty on a 3-1. Kaplan entered the Bears’ zone wide on the right wing with Irwin in the middle and Gunty trailing. Kaplan got the defenseman to commit to him and pulled the puck back in an attempt to find Irwin who was completely uncovered in the slot but the Landon defender desperately flung his stick out to block the puck and end the threat. A minute later, Gunty won a neutral zone faceoff back to Tilton who exploded into the Bears’ zone along the right wall, froze a defenseman with a hesitation move and cut to the front of the net for a backhand try that bounced around in the crease before being cleared away. With 40 seconds remaining and a faceoff in the St. Albans’ defensive zone, Landon used their timeout to set up a play and one last chance to win the game in overtime. Kaplan controlled the faceoff and the defense stood tall as time expired to send the game into a shootout.
As the home team, St. Albans was allowed to choose to go first or second in the shootout and chose to have Landon take the first attempt. The Bears sent out Pehrkon, their goal scorer in regulation, who tried to deke Skowronek to his forehand, but the STA junior stayed square to the puck the whole way and flashed his left pad to kick the shot away. Kaplan went first for the Bulldogs and tried a double move that Quattrone stayed with to keep the shootout 0-0 after the first round. Landon’s Sebby Kenary went next, attempting a forehand-to-backhand move that Skowronek did the splits to stop with his legs fully splayed. The STA coaches called on Charlie Irwin next, who came in wide from the left, looped all the way to the right above the circles, then froze Quattrone with a hesitation move in the slot and found an opening between the Bear goalie’s legs to put the Bulldogs up 1-0 after two rounds. Landon’s Owen Calderone stepped up next and beat Skowronek with a nifty move to his backhand lifting the puck over the STA goalie’s outstretched pad to tie the shootout at 1. Coach Finer turned to Zachary Skowronek and the lefty came in from the right side, cut across the front of the net and buried a shot over Quattrone’s right pad to put the Dogs up 2-1 after three rounds. Landon’s Alex MacMillan was next and went to his backhand, but Skowronek slid to his left to deny the attempt. Miles Gunty, who tied the game in the 3rd, went next for the Bulldogs and, after some mesmerizing stickwork, spotted an opening in the upper right corner that he missed by just inches. With STA up 2-1 after four rounds, Landon’s Riley Knebel came in from the left, cut to the middle and fired a shot over Skowronek’s right pad that the STA goalie knocked down with his blocker, setting off a wild celebration on the ice and in the stands.
Notes. This is the first IAC Tournament win for the STA Hockey program. The Bulldogs shared the league title with Georgetown Prep and Landon based on their 3-way tie in the regular season and will hang the third IAC championship banner in program history. Zachary Skowronek gets credit for the game-winning goal and Benjamin Skowronek had 37 saves through regulation and overtime (7 in overtime) in addition to his four shootout saves. The Bulldogs’ special teams are making the difference for them in the postseason. They have killed off 10 of 11 opponent power plays in their two IAC tournament games, scored three shorthanded goals (2 of them late empty-netters in the semi-final game), and are 2 for 6 on the power play.
The Bulldogs enter next week’s MAPHL playoffs as the 7th seed and host Archbishop Spalding at Fort Dupont Wednesday at 3:50pm. A win in that game would set up a rematch with Landon next Friday. The Bears are seeded 2nd in the MAPHL. Thursday’s championship likely marked the last IAC Hockey game in the current Fort Dupont Ice Arena. The building is scheduled to be razed next month and a new rink will be built in its place.