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Redemption for Mars, Stepke in State Title Game

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Sweet, sweet revenge.


That’s the sentiment for the Mars Planets following their 4-1 triumph against the Bayard Rustin Golden Knights in the Pennsylvania High School Hockey Championship at Mellon Arena Thursday afternoon.

Bayard Rustin defeated Mars in last season’s state championship, 5-0, in Philadelphia. So Mars returned the favor, this time in their own house by lifting the state cup in front of their fans.

“Last year we had 75 fans to their 5,000,” junior forward Robbie Sigurdsson said. “The arena was too big but they filled the entire place and standing area. They were chanting Stepke and got him out of his game. They got us last year. “

I don’t even know how to explain (the feeling). It’s something we’ve been working for, for two years now. We spent a lot of time with these guys. We spend a lot of hours away from the rink too. To see it all pay off is a good feeling - Head Coach Steve Meyers
“I don’t even know how to explain (the feeling),” Mars alum and head coach Steve Meyers said. “It’s something we’ve been working for, for two years now. We spent a lot of time with these guys. We spend a lot of hours away from the rink too. To see it all pay off is a good feeling.”

The victory was particularly pleasing to junior goaltender Tyler Stepke. Last year, Stepke allowed five goals and admitted that the Philadelphia crowd got in his head. This season, however, Stepke was the best player on the ice, turning aside 35 of 36 shots to amend for last year.

“It’s like redemption,” Stepke said. “They beat us last year pretty bad and it was nice to take it to them like they did to us last year. “

“He was there all night,” Meyers said. “I think at some point he frustrated them and got them out of their rhythm a little bit. That’s what happens when you have a great goalie that’s a game breaker.“

“He did great,” Sigurdsson said. “If we didn’t have him then we wouldn’t have won.”

And if Mars didn’t have Sigurdsson, it may not have won. Sigurdsson, who had 15 goals and 34 points during the regular season and three points (2G-1A) in the Penguins Cup run, tallied two of the team’s four goals and added an assist for a three-point game to lead Mars to victory.

“He was great,” Meyers said. “He was banged up and still played amazing. I couldn’t be more happy with Robbie. All year long he was one of the guys that nobody talked about but he was there every game. “

“He played well all season,” Stepke said. “He’s scored big goals for us when we needed them.“

He scored a big goal to start the game. Sigurdsson’s power-play tally with 4:23 left in the first period gave Mars a 1-0 that it would never relinquish.

Senior center Mike Mazzotta had the puck at the near point, which lured in two Knights defenders, creating open ice in the high slot. Mazzotta made a great pass through the two Rustin players and into Sigurdsson’s wheelhouse. Sigurdsson made no mistake in blasting a one-timer into the goal.

Mars jumped out to a 4-0 lead en route to an easy 4-1 victory to claim the Class A State Championship.
“Since the beginning of the season we’ve worked on that play,” Sigurdsson said. “We make two penalty killers suck into one side, and get open for a one-timer. I just got lucky and put it in.

“To get the lead felt comforting, to get that first goal. We kept working to get the second one and kept putting them on.”

Mars put on an additional goal just 31 seconds later. Nick Blaney chased down a puck in the far corner and threw a pass through two Knights players to Rusty Miller atop the goal crease. Miller batted home the score to make it a 2-0 game.

Sigurdsson chipped in his second goal with a skillfully angled shot in the second period. He was parked to the right of the goal, below the goal line. Blaney lasered a pass right to the Sigurdsson, who quickly cranked a bad-angle shot inside the net.

“Blaney and I play on the AAA team (Valley Stars) together,” he said. “I knew what he was going to do. I just stayed back, and it just sneaked through. I put it in.”

Mazzotta rounded out the Planets’ scoring when he found an errand pass in front of the net for an easy shoot and score to give Mars an insurmountable

Mars played their best in the third period, where they created numerous scoring chances. Mars’ defense was particularly impressive and held down the Knights’ offensive attack.

“They had a lot of shots but they didn’t have a lot of good shots,” Meyers said. “We were pretty happy with that. My staff and I have been preaching a certain system all year. We know if we stick to that system then we are a pretty tough team to beat.”

“They cleared the rebounds and tied guys up in front,” Stepke said of his teammates. “You have to give credit to everyone, not only our defense but our forwards coming back and backchecking. They really tied some guys up in front. That helped. We kept the shots down in the third period. I thought we played the best in the third.”

It was the longest five minutes of my life. I thought the third period went really fast until there was five minutes. Then the last five minutes was like, ‘oh my, just get over.’ - Tyler Stepke
Stepke watched as the clock wound down, inching closer and closer to the final buzzer and a Mars’ championship.

“It was the longest five minutes of my life,” he said. “I thought the third period went really fast until there was five minutes. Then the last five minutes was like, ‘oh my, just get over.’”

Bayard Rustin ended Stepke’s shutout bid with 38 seconds remaining in the game when Brian Christie tipped in a Dave Thompson shot. Though Stepke was disappointed he didn’t get the shutout, he did keep the game in perspective:

“I’ll take one-goal against and the state championship any day.”

And that’s exactly what he did.

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