BUFFALO — All Pelham coach Ed Witz could say to his team after Sunday’s win was, “We’re state champs!”
“I didn’t do anything,” said Witz. “I just said, ‘Change ’em up!'”
That was before his team dumped a bucket of water on him and assistant coach Mike Cambria awarded him the game puck.
A 7-1 win over St. Lawrence on Sunday gave the Pelicans their first New York State Championship in program history. For Witz, who has been coaching Pelham for 31 years, to finally win it was surreal.
Tears might have joined the water dripping down Witz’s face as junior forward Stefan Miklakos put an arm around his coach. Miklakos led Pelham with three goals and five assists last weekend in a 6-0 win over Brockport in Saturday’s semifinals before coming back with three more goals in Sunday’s win that finished it off.
“It took a lot of hard work,” captain Gibson Smith said after Friday morning’s practice at HarborCenter as he reflected on the Pelicans’ 23-1 record coming into Buffalo. “I know everyone says that, but we really put a lot of time into it. Full commitment and a lot of focus on just getting better every day.”
“Ever since the spring, once our season ended, the mentality has always been, get back up here and win the whole thing,” added fellow captain Ben Hurd.
Video courtesy of IcingTheFed
Last year, Pelham lost in the state semifinals to Skaneateles. This year, the Pelicans wore T-shirts with “UNFINISHED BUSINESS” printed on the back.
Pelham was the first team on the ice Friday morning after arriving Thursday night and stopping by the famous Buffalo restaurant the Anchor Bar for dinner. The Pelicans saw a movie Friday afternoon and joined the rest of the teams at the Statler Hotel for dinner Friday night. Then, it was early to bed — Witz suggested a 9:30 pm curfew on the ride back to the hotel and a captain replied, “No, nine o’clock” — and early to rise for Saturday’s 9:30 am puck drop against Brockport.
Pelham continued the dominance it had showed all season with Saturday’s 6-0 win over Brockport. Assistant captain Natty Heintz scored twice, Miklakos had three assists and goaltender Justin Ming made 19 saves for the shutout win. The triumph set the stage for the season finale.
“I feel like I had to make some good saves, but these guys are always in front of me, clearing the puck out in front and playing some really good D,” Ming said.
Miklakos set up Hurd for Pelham’s second goal of the game in the first period, and Witz called that the “dagger.”
“Natty put in a few goals, which helped us really solidify the win,” Miklakos said. “I’m very happy with the way the team played, so that’s what counts.”
“Honestly, I could not sleep all night,” said Montanarella, a junior.
But everything went according to plan Sunday as Miklakos recorded three goals and two assists, Hurd had a goal and four assists, Heintz added another goal and an assist, and Smith and Montanarella also found the back of the net. Ming’s job wasn’t too difficult as he faced just seven St. Lawrence shots — Pelham outshot the Larries 43-7.
The biggest challenge for the Pelicans was solving St. Lawrence goaltender Rico DiMatteo. Heintz didn’t score the Pelicans’ first goal until there were just more than six minutes left in the first; it was Pelham’s 10th shot on goal.
After the first period, the shots were 12-3 in favor of Pelham, but the score was 1-1. DiMatteo had 20 saves before Pelham scored again, and the Pelicans had a 2-1 lead after two thanks to a Miklakos shorthanded goal in the second.
Miklakos added two more in the third to sandwich Smith’s goal, and Montanarella finished off the win with Pelham’s seventh goal of the game with just 1:27 remaining.
“I was expecting a rebound to pop out, and it popped right to my stick, and I just put it top shelf-ish,” Montanarella said. “I was really excited. I was like, ‘Wow, we’re a few minutes away from winning states.’ It was honestly one of the most surreal feelings of my life.”
“It’s crazy that after four years, we finally managed to win the state championship,” said Hurd. “It’s the most satisfying thing in the world. [Witz] has been chasing this for 31 years straight, and he finally got it, so that’s all that matters.”
“So much is going through my mind right now; I’m speechless,” said assistant captain Russell Mazzaro. “We’re state champions. Seven-to-one win. We’re domination. We’re the best team in the state.”
“Words can’t describe how happy I am,” said Miklakos. “I love my team so much. We pulled through it. It was a long season and a full one. We had a motto, ‘Unfinished business,’ and today we finished. Today we definitely finished business. No words that can describe this feeling.”
“I can’t really think straight right now,” said Smith. “I’ve dreamt about this but didn’t know what it would feel like, but it’s awesome.”
Pelham — Natty Heintz (Stephan Miklakos, Ben Hurd). 6:02
St. Lawrence — Ian Bressette. 2:16
Pelham — Stephan Miklakos (Ben Hurd) SHG. 3:27
Pelham — Stephan Miklakos (Ben Hurd, Natty Heintz). 12:20
Pelham — Gibson Smith (Stephan Miklakos) PPG. 11:24
Pelham — Ben Hurd. 8:00
Pelham — Stephan Miklakos (Ben Hurd, Will Case). 6:36
Pelham — Drew Montanarella (Connor Evans). 1:27
Written by Melissa Brawdy/HockeyClan Contributor