Gonzaga goaltender Michael Clemente kept the Eagles tied with DeMatha last night in the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League championship with several critical saves late in the second period. In the third period, elusive winger Patrick Cullen gave Gonzaga all the breathing room it would need, scoring the decisive goal in an eventual 4-1 Gonzaga win that gave the Eagles their first MSHL private school title.
Cullen, a sophomore, slipped in front of the DeMatha goal after a faceoff and banged in Gonzaga's second goal, to break a 1-1 deadlock with 7 minutes 57 seconds remaining at The Gardens Icehouse in Laurel. Gonzaga (20-3-2) added two more -- including a crucial short-handed goal -- for the final margin.
Eagles' Patrick Cullen and goalie Michael Clemente celebrate. "This was our goal from the start of the season," said Cullen, the tournament's MVP.
(Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
"Four years ago we really were struggling, and now to win a championship, this is just amazing," Gonzaga forward Spenser Smallwood said. "We came into the third period and decided we were going to pump it up four or five notches."
Did they ever. Although Cullen's goal snapped the tie in front of a capacity crowd of about 1,300, it was far from over. The Stags (18-9-3), defending MSHL champs and seeking their 10th title overall, had a power play with about five minutes remaining. But the Eagles' Patrick Foster answered with a short-handed goal and Smallwood capped things off with his second goal of the game with 1:05 left to play.
"This was our goal from the start of the season," said Cullen, named the tournament's most valuable player. "And to accomplish it, this is unbelievable. Just amazing."
The Eagles might not have found themselves in position in the third period if not for the splendid play of Clemente, who made 22 saves. Twelve of those stops came during a tense second period, when the freshman made stunning glove saves on DeMatha's Bill Berman and Joe Cullinan.
Clemente "played awesome," said Coach Paul Tilch, who has turned around the Gonzaga program, which won four games game the year before he arrived and now has a title in his third season. "He was the wild card. Because it's tough to predict how a youngster is going to do in a big game in front of a big crowd. But after we weathered that storm in the second period, I knew we would be okay."
Clemente said: "I did it for the seniors, who were here when the team wasn't that good. I didn't want to let them down."
The only goal Clemente allowed was by Brian Gibbons, who beat him over the blocker at 12:53 of the second period. The Stags were still in the game midway through the third period, but were unable to rebound from Gonzaga's short-handed goal, which came off a Stags turnover deep in their own end.
"They came out and didn't respect us," said DeMatha Coach Matt Revkin. "That's what made them dangerous. [And] their goalie came up big on a few occasions."