At 6 feet 2 inches, Georgetown Prep senior PJ McNamara is an imposing figure in front of the goal. But for most of Friday night’s Interstate Athletic Conference regular season finale against Landon, McNamara morphed into an impenetrable wall.
Using every inch of his 175-pound frame — from legs and shoulders to chest and face — McNamara kept the Little Hoyas afloat against a ceaseless barrage from Landon’s high-powered offense.
With McNamara doing the heavy lifting, AJ Taylor provided the offense, tallying three goals — including what proved to be the game-winner with 26 seconds remaining — as the fourth-ranked Little Hoyas toppled the top-ranked Bears, 3-2, in front of a full house at Cabin John Ice Rink.
Landon (15-2) outshot Georgetown Prep (14-3) by a 45-16 margin. During one stretch, McNamara saw 16 consecutive shots in between his team’s own efforts on the opposite goal. He finished with 43 saves on the night.
“We knew coming into the game that we weren’t going to dominate this team. They’re way too good, they’re way too big,” McNamara said. “We’re the underdogs this year, but we knew that if we stay in it, that it’s anyone’s game, and in hockey it can come down to a toss up between two teams and who wants to win the most.”
With 2 minutes 17 seconds remaining in the second period, Taylor took advantage of a rare opportunity for the Little Hoyas. The senior center blasted a slap shot from just inside the blue line that snuck past Landon goalie Samuel Kroll and seemed to take both teams by surprise.
“We came into the game wanting to get shots on goal, and we knew this was one of (Kroll’s) first starts in a Prep-Landon game,” Taylor said. “We hadn’t really tested him that much so I just ripped a slap shot, and it snuck right underneath his glove and went in. The fans went crazy, our bench was fired up and that really gave us momentum for the rest of the game.”
But off the ensuing face-off, Landon senior Max Greenwald answered with a goal that tied the game and put the first chink in McNamara’s armor.
Just before the end of the period, Landon was whistled for too many men on the ice, a penalty that proved costly when Taylor scored his second goal on the power play just over a minute into the third period.
With four minutes remaining, Bears forward Matt Potolicchio teed up a wrist shot in front of net, but McNamara came up with yet another miraculous save, leaving Landon’s senior captain to turn his head skyward and scream with frustration.
“PJ really held us in the game until our offense got going,” Taylor said “He stood on his head all night. You couldn’t have asked for a better game from a goalie.”
Landon went to the power play for the final 1:24, but facing a six-on-four, Taylor slung a shot from center ice into the open net to give the Little Hoyas a brief two-goal cushion. That proved to be the game-winner when Greenwald added a tap-in goal with 7.1 seconds left.
Kyle Chadwick had two assists for the Little Hoyas, who have now won eight straight games since a loss to Gonzaga in the Purple Puck Tournament final on Dec. 30. The Bears were without senior goalie Alex Joyce who has been held out for the last three games after taking a hit to the head two weeks ago.
The loss was only Landon’s second loss in two seasons, and the team’s first since a 4-3 overtime defeat to Prep in the 2010 IAC tournament final. The two teams could meet again in Thursday’s title game, with the Bears out for revenge and the Little Hoyas looking to prove Friday’s result was no fluke.
“If the puck bounces the way that we all want it to, there will be a rematch,” Landon Coach Chan Gammill said. “I think that’s probably the best fuel for our team.”