Home Sweet Home! Panthers Top Rival West Seneca West to Seize First-Ever NYSPHSAA D2 State Title

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — When one thinks of the success the Sweet Home Panthers’ athletic programs have had over the years, what typically crosses the mind are the championships their football, basketball, soccer or volleyball teams have won.

(Travis Jackson @TravJax71)

Hockey can now be included in the conversation.

It’s possible now to call Sweet Home a hockey school after winning the first state title in school history on Sunday afternoon at the HarborCenter.

By defeating West Seneca West 7-5, in the NYSPHSAA Division II State Championship, a hole that had been in the program’s collective psyche for nearly 20 years is now closed.

“After all of these years, I’ve never experienced anything quite like this,” coach Dave Gerspach told WNY Athletics. “I’ve been involved in the program since day one, and our school has had success in a lot of different areas for a long time. But now we’re champions, and I love the kids we have on this team.”

Senior Tyler Edholm, the MVP of the state tournament with a pair of hat tricks, felt validated by the victory.

“No one believed in us all year long,” Edholm said. “Even though we were ranked number one in the state, I’m sure no one expected us to win a state championship – except for the guys in that locker room. We’re a hockey school now, and hopefully we’ve changed that perception of us by proving everyone wrong.”

Despite running roughshod through the regular season, the Panthers felt like an underdog throughout the postseason. It was a label that made sense to many, given that the team was an at-large wild card after falling to the Indians in the Section VI title game at the KeyBank Center just two weeks prior.

After notching wins over state powerhouses like Northeastern Clinton and Auburn, however, the Panthers’ confidence reached an all-time high heading into Sunday’s game.

“To experience back-to-back games like today and beating Auburn yesterday, that’s what high school sports is all about,” Gerspach said. “To go through obstacles like we have – being on a road trip from hell in the regionals and beating a really talented team yesterday – it was a phenomenal feeling to have coming into today.”

Early on, the Indians appeared ready to meet the challenge of matching their football counterparts with a title of their own. Ethan Parsons and Kyle Haettich scored for WSW to open up a 2-0 lead ten minutes into the first period, and the team began to dream of becoming the first school in New York State to win football and hockey state championships in the same year since Aquinas in 1998-99.

With slightly more than three minutes to go, the Indians took the first of six penalties charged to them through the game’s first two periods. Edholm made them pay with his first power play goal of the day and then deflected a shot by Joseph Torrillo past Indians goalie Noah Sobczyk with the man-advantage with just 44 seconds remaining in the first.

The Panthers wouldn’t let up in the second period. Kyle Neudorf struck only 57 seconds into the period with a wrist shot – again on the man-advantage – and Blake Russo made it 4-2 shortly thereafter. Edholm got his third goal of the day midway through the period and Eric Abbate increased the Panthers’ lead to 6-2 on a breakaway.

“To get back-to-back hat tricks on the biggest stage and to make it look so easy – that just shows how much Tyler carried us this year,” Gerspach said. “He’s had a point in every game this year, and he’s been great.”

Nonetheless, the Indians wouldn’t quit. Billy Coughlin, Chase Chodkowski and Jacob Fort would score three of the next four goals in the game to cut their deficit to two – with Neudorf getting the Panthers’ last tally in between.

With under two minutes to play, the Panthers held on for dear life. As the final ten seconds ticked off the clock, all tension was laid to rest as euphoria became the sound on the ice and goaltender Michael Lisman was mobbed by his teammates and coaches.

“It’s such an incredible feeling to know you’re on top, and all the work we’ve put into this season has paid off,” Lisman said. “If this win doesn’t legitimize us as a hockey school, I don’t know what else would.

“The last few years, all of our sports teams have gone on long playoff runs and won championships. But I think it’s time for us to be considered as one of those teams that other schools circle on their schedules and say, ‘They’re going to be tough to beat’. We deserve that kind of recognition, and winning a title definitely helps.”

 

Written by Anthony Fiorello / @WNYAthletics

Special to HockeyClan

 

Main Image: Sweet Home High School celebrates first-ever NYSPHSAA Division II State Title with a 7-5 triumph over West Seneca West on the ice at Harbor Center in Buffalo, N.Y. on March 11, 2018. (Yomira Meregildo)

 

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