It’s safe to say the Mars Planets had dominated Class A the last few years.
After all, they’d won their conference’s Penguins Cup championship the last three years and was looking for their fourth entering Saturday’s showdown with Quaker Valley.
But as fate would have it, the Quakers were the last team to win the title back in 2008 before Mars went on their impressive run. Quaker Valley set the stage by ending a 10-game losing streak to Mars with a resounding 7-0 win in their second-to-last game of the regular season, and they would be the ones to end the Planets’ overall dominance of the conference with their 4-2 win at CONSOL Energy Center.
“We were pretty motivated this year to come out and beat them,” said senior goalie Doug Revak, who made 12 saves in the win.
"I’ve lost to them every year for the last three years," senior forward Jayson Lottes said. "We finally beat them for the first time this season and to beat them again here just makes it even better."
And not only is the win significant for that reason, but it’s also special because it’s the first Penguins Cup title for this group of kids.
“It’s a special win for our program,” Quakers head coach Kevin Quinn said. “It’s our third one, but most importantly it’s the first one for these kids. They constantly hear about the teams of ’06 and ’08 and the successes that those teams had. So the best part about it is they’ve got a win for themselves. I’m real proud of them.”
Junior Ryan Dickson led the way for Quaker Valley with two goals. Junior Clayton Bouchard and sophomore Jimmy Perkins also scored for the Quakers, while senior forward Kevin Kenny finished with three assists.
The teams appeared evenly matched in the first period, with much of the frame being played in the neutral zone as both clubs struggled to establish offensive zone time. They went into the first intermission scoreless, with Mars holding a slight 8-7 edge in shots.
“I came out and I knew what I had to do,” Revak said. “The team doesn’t always have the best starts, but you have to be there to hold the fort until they get going.”
And in the second period, top-seeded Quaker Valley certainly found its legs. The Quakers asserted their dominance by taking a 3-0 lead into the second intermission.
The Quakers held the Planets to just one shot in the middle frame, paving the way for Bouchard to tally a power-play score at the 6:08 mark of the period.
Kenny sent a between-the-legs pass that skittered to just outside the crease. Bouchard collected it and got a few cracks on the doorstep, stuffing the puck past Mars goalie Christian Knapp on his third attempt for the 1-0 lead.
Quinn was glad to see Bouchard get on the board, as he was battling through some bumps and bruises at that point.
“He got banged up a couple times early in the game and was still struggling with it with the puck,” Quinn said. “The key was that Clayton is one of our best guys in front of the net. If there are loose pucks, he jumps on them.”
The momentum really started to shift in Quaker Valley’s favor with 53.4 seconds left in the period, when Dickson picked up a loose puck in the slot and wristed it far side past Knapp to put the Quakers up 2-0.
But the turning point came with just 2.7 seconds left in the frame, when Dickson perfectly re-directed defenseman Ryan Lotte’s shot from the point past Knapp for his second goal of the game.
The two goals with less than a minute to play put the Planets back on their heels.
“It was a game-changer, I thought,” Dickson said, who was Quaker Valley's leading scorer with 57 points (20G-37A) through 19 regular-season games. “We got two goals in that last minute and it changed the tide and all the momentum into the third period.”
It opened the door for Quaker Valley to build a 4-0 lead just 32 seconds into the third period when Perkins’ quick wrister beat Knapp.
And it would turn out to be a much-needed cushion, as senior forward Robert Foley took advantage of some late penalty trouble by the Quakers when he scored twice for Mars in the final 4:21 of play to cut Quaker Valley’s lead to 4-2.
“Up until we took those penalties late, we were pretty comfortable,” Quinn said. “Disappointed in our finish there. I think our guys may have started looking at the scoreboard instead of finishing the game.”
But Foley’s efforts wouldn’t be enough to erase the Quakers’ efforts, and they came away with the 4-2 win.
Quaker Valley will face Flyers Cup champion Bayard Rustin in the Pennsylvania Cup championship on Sunday at 3 p.m. at RMU’s Island Sports Center.
“We’re going to enjoy it for the next couple of hours,” Lottes said. “Then after we go out to dinner, get focused and get ready for the game tomorrow because it’s going to be tougher.”