The Landon Bears hockey team entered Friday’s highly-anticipated matchup with DeMatha boasting an unblemished 6-0 record and a sterling 47-7 goal scoring advantage.
The defending Mid Atlantic Prep Hockey League champions had yet to face a true test. But before a packed crowd at the Rockville Ice Arena, they got one.
With dominant special teams play, hard hitting and speed to spare, the Bears took a 3-0 lead into the third period on senior captain Matt Potolicchio’s hat trick. But DeMatha stormed back in the final six minutes, scoring twice in a two-minute span to put Landon on the ropes.
The Stags appeared to score the tying goal with just over three minutes remaining, but it was waved off, and the Bears held on for a 3-2 victory.
“We knew it was going to be intense,” Landon senior defenseman Connor Meike said. “This is the closest game we’ve played all year — it was physical, there was a lot of emotion and this is a really good win for us.”
The game was barely 15 seconds old when Landon senior Max Greenwald was hit with a penalty that gave DeMatha an early power play. The Bears fought off the man advantage, starting a trend that would carry on throughout the night.
Potoliccio opened the scoring on Landon’s first power play with a nifty wrap-around tally past a sprawling Stephan Fernandez. Later in the period with the top-ranked Bears back on the power play, Greenwald bolted down the right side and flipped a backhand pass to Potoliccio for the tap-in goal and a 2-0 advantage.
With Landon on the penalty kill once again early in the second period, Jack Barton fed Potoliccio with a cross ice pass for his third marker of the night.
“Things started off a little chippy and we started retaliating and ended up in the box way too much,” Potoliccio said. “We’re skilled enough that if we play our game, skate hard and use our speed, we probably should have been able to win this game a little more handily. But it was a good test to face this kind of adversity.”
Both teams were eager to throw their weight around from the outset— the Stags and Bears combined for 22 penalties and 47 penalty minutes. But the No. 7 Stags (6-15-3) failed to take advantage of their opportunities, twice missing open nets and coming away empty after more than five minutes of power play time — two minutes with a two-man advantage — to start the third period.
Pat Tanski finally got DeMatha on the board with 5 minutes 41 seconds left with a wrist shot past Landon senior goalie Alex Joyce from the top of the left circle. Two minutes later Garrett Hasken poked home another goal and the Bears suddenly found themselves on their heels. Only 40 seconds later Tanski knocked in the tying goal but it was disallowed when officials ruled he kicked the puck into the net.
Joyce (18 saves) stopped two more DeMatha shots in the final seconds to help the Bears hold on for the win. Fernandez matched Joyce’s strong play for most of the night, stopping 21 shots against an explosive Landon rush, which could have been a preview of another playoff matchup.
“I give our guys a lot of credit for bouncing back,” DeMatha Coach Tony McAuley said. Landon is a good hockey team and everybody’s out for them. We had our chance today, but we’ve just got to keep getting better as a hockey team.”