Just like in the famous fairy tale, eventually the clock had to strike midnight for Canon McMillan, the Cinderella story throughout the 84 Lumber Penguins Cup Championship Series.
Despite holding leads of 2-0 and 3-2 on Thursday afternoon, the Big Macs saw their dream of a state championship come to an abrupt halt when Cardinal O’Hara’s Stephen Falcone tallied his second goal of the contest 1:13 into the second overtime to give the Lions a 4-3 victory and the Class AAA State Championship.
“It has been a great season,” Canon McMillan senior forward Joe Mottiqua said. “Nobody ever thought we would get to the Penguins Cup and we got there and won it. Once we won the Penguins Cup we realized we got to play for the state championship. We just wanted to win the Penguins Cup. We can look back at this season and realize it was a great success for us.”
Canon McMillan was looking for their third-consecutive overtime victory after shocking Shaler, 6-5, in the Penguins Cup semifinals, and following that up with a 3-2 defeat of Seneca Valley to claim the school’s first Penguins Cup championship last Saturday.
Unfortunately lady luck wasn’t on the Big Macs’ side in the final high school hockey game in the history of Mellon Arena.
“We were the Cinderella story the whole time,” Canon McMillan senior captain Mario Dalesandro said. “We weren’t even supposed to be here. The clock decided to strike midnight.”
The clock struck midnight thanks to a great play by Cardinal O’Hara to quickly turn defense into offense.
“I was standing there reflecting on what we did accomplish. It was something amazing. The 19 other guys on this team did something that nobody in our school has ever done. I may not remember all my relatives’ names when I die, but those 19 names I’ll never forget. That is something I will take with me to the grave.” - Mario Dalesandro
Ricky DeRosa, who had two helpers in the games, picked the pocket of one of the Big Macs in the neutral zone and skated one-on-two over the blue line. DeRosa attracted both defenders his way before tossing a pass behind his back to a streaking Falcone. With one quick move from forehand to backhand Falcone was able to slip a backhander over the glove of goaltender Brandon Smolarek for the winner.
“I had the one D beat but I saw him cutting to the net,” DeRosa said. “The only way to get it to him was behind my back so I just tossed it to him. He buried it.”
“I knew he was going to go down real quick,” Falcone said. “I saw (Mike) Marconi on a couple of breakaways and go that way. I just tried to lift it over his shoulder and it went in.”
“We had the momentum for a long time in the game but then they scored a couple to slow that down,” Mottiqua said. “We slowed that down by scoring again but they answered. It just carried back and forth the rest of the game. They got that last rush there at the beginning of the second overtime and just popped it in.”
Prior to Falcone’s tally both teams had more than their share of chances during both overtime sessions. Mottiqua alone had three or four quality looks for the Big Macs, including a snap shot from the bottom of the right circle just seconds into the first overtime which beat netminder Jeffery Holland but grazed off the crossbar. Mottiqua later dipped his left shoulder and made a strong power move to the net a la Jordan Staal
but Holland slid swiftly along the ice to deny that shot.
“We really worked our bags off the whole tournament,” Mottiqua said. “Luck was really on our side the whole way through. We just couldn’t capitalize on our four or five great chances in overtime.”
Maybe the difference for Canon McMillan, which had provided fans with so many countless memories throughout these playoffs, was that they played from ahead the whole night instead of having to be the cardiac kids.
Following a scoreless opening period the Big Macs looked as if they were going to run away from the Lions when they scored twice within a 33-second span beginning at the 9:48 mark of the middle frame.
Alexander Baskakov laid into a perfect feed from Brett Oldaker and fired a one-timer off the pads of Holland. Ryan Thomas stood waiting in the slot for the rebound, throwing a shot through the legs of Holland to open the scoring on a power play.
Dalesandro would increase that advantage after a miscommunication between Holland and one of his defensemen allowed the biscuit to lie free behind the Lions cage. Dalesandro promptly scooped up the loose puck and banked a shot off the right skate of Holland from below the goal line to give the Big Macs a 2-0 lead.
“I really thought we were going to keep going, put the foot on the gas peddle and stomp all over them,” Dalesandro said. “However, they came back strong so give them credit. They were one heck of a team.”
Cardinal O’Hara evened the score prior to the second intermission as David Smith and Falcone each scored to make it 2-2, setting up a thrilling finish throughout the third period and both overtime sessions.
Canon McMillan retook the lead, 3-2, at the 10:32 mark of the third period on a sensational passing play between Dalesandro and Mottiqua.
Mottiqua caught up to a loose puck at the top of the left circle in the Cardinal O’Hara zone, took the puck right to the goal and sent a perfect dish onto the blade of a streaking Mottiqua who tapped the rubber over the goal line for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
Marconi answered Mottiqua’s tally and sent the game into overtime when he picked up Falcone’s rebound in the slot and threw a shot over a prone Smolarek with just 4:07 to play in regulation, knotting the score, 3-3.
Canon McMillan felt confident heading to the extra frame after claiming back-to-back overtime victories, but a third was not in the cards.
While the Big Macs might have ended on the short end of the stick, this is a team that has plenty of reasons to hold their heads high. They took the long road to glory, upsetting the Nos. 3, 1 and 4 seeds to claim the Penguins Cup. Along the way this team of outstanding young men created memories to last a lifetime.
“I was standing there reflecting on what we did accomplish,” Dalesandro said. “It was something amazing. The 19 other guys on this team did something that nobody in our school has ever done. I may not remember all my relatives’ names when I die, but those 19 names I’ll never forget. That is something I will take with me to the grave.”