But after spotting Huntingtown an early goal, the Raiders began to dominate puck possession and take advantage of their counter-attacking opportunities. And after needing a pair of one-goal victories to reach their first state final, it was Atholton that morphed into the offensive juggernaut, cruising to a 6-2 victory in style before a standing-room-only crowd at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel.
Mitchell Fink followed his own shot to bang home his eighth playoff goal of the season and give the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. But Brandon Potter’s slap shot from the point through traffic beat Huntingtown goalie Kody Powers to knot the score at the first intermission.
From there, the Raiders (13-2) hoarded the puck, stringing passes together through the neutral zone or dumping and chasing to keep the Hurricanes (13-5-1) pursuing them around the rink. Barely one minute into the second period, Jake Mills slipped a pass through Powers’s legs to an open Avery Shepherd, who backhanded it into the net, giving Atholton a lead it would not relinquish.
“We knew they had big shooters on the point. We just had to shut them down and keep the puck from getting to them,” Shepherd said. “We wanted to get the puck deep, keep it in their zone and get as many shots on goal as possible.”
Shepherd’s five-on-three power play tally later in the period extended the lead and Atholton senior goalie Taylor Abell stoned Patrick Laiosa on a breakaway to preserve the two-goal margin.
A Mills wrist shot only 33 seconds into the third period pushed the Hurricanes to the brink and Matt Haney’s power-play goal with eight minutes left, all but secured the Raiders’ first state championship.
“All year long we’ve tried to play defensive hockey,” said a dapper-dressed Atholton Coach Bud Michels, who made good on a three-year-old bet to wear a tuxedo for the playoffs if his team won the Howard County Cup. “We needed to do that tonight, because they’ve got a lot of good shooters.”
Potter added his second goal later in the period and Huntingtown’s Tyler Myrick ripped a slap shot from just inside the blue line for the final margin. Atholton outshot a Hurricanes team averaging 7.5 goals per game in the playoffs, 35-16, on the night.
With the victory, the Raiders avenged a 4-3 regular season loss, and ensured their coaching staff would sport tuxedos next season.
“They’ve got to wear them until we lose. That was the bet,” Shepherd said. “I can’t wait to come back from college and see them still wearing those tuxes next winter.”