Ten minutes separated No. 6 Briar Woods from a second consecutive Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League championship when Stone Bridge’s offensive pressure went from dangerous to relentless.
After yet another close call, Falcons senior goalie Elliot Shelton snatched a shot out of the air in front of his net and held his glove over his head amidst “MVP” cheers from the Briar Woods student section. His defenders skated up next to him, grabbed his helmet and offered a variation of whatever encouragement they had been feeding him all night: “keep it up,” “hang in there” and, most accurately, “keep playing the way you are and we’ll win the game.”
“They kept telling me, ‘You watch our back, we’ll watch yours,’ ” Shelton said.
Shelton and his core defenders — along with a handful of unlucky breaks for the Stone Bridge offense — kept Briar Woods in control for the majority of the night as they rolled to a 4-1 win and a second consecutive title at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“We just had to play a safe, strong defense game,” said sophomore Cole Judd, whose crucial deflections stymied the fifth-ranked Bulldogs throughout the game. Stone Bridge (11-2) had five power plays but only managed to get on the scoreboard with 1 minute 2 seconds remaining and the result all but secured.
“I just tried to keep it all in my head and focus,” Shelton said. “We came into this with a positive mentality.”
The Falcons (12-1) came into the final with two crucial advantages over the Bulldogs — the desire for revenge and a crop of 10 seasoned seniors.
Stone Bridge scored four first-period goals to cruise to a 6-2 win in the teams’ December meeting. Zach Regester spent 12 minutes of the first period of that game in the penalty box for Briar Woods. On Friday, he scored the Falcons’ first goal less than five minutes into the game. Luke Benitez doubled the advantage in the waning seconds of the first period after skating up the right side through several Bulldogs defenders.
Friday marked the third straight state final for the Falcons. On the other bench, the Bulldogs feature just three seniors and one junior. That inexperience showed early as Stone Bridge, which won consecutive titles in 2011 and 2012, struggled to find its flow.
Bobby VanDusen gave the Falcons a 3-0 lead midway through the second period, and Regester tacked on the fourth goal with 41 seconds remaining, setting off the Falcons’ celebration.
“They all played pretty solid, but our goalie stood on his head for us — overall his best game of the year,” Briar Woods Coach Bill Hughes said.
“What it comes down to this time of year is we’ve got a deeper bench, this is our third year in the final and a majority of this team has been here before. They’re a little more experienced.”