The Suffolk Sting came into the big playoff weekend focused on only one thing…winning. Not only were the Sting able to win both playoff rounds they faced at the Susquehanna Sports Center but were able to finish undefeated with five straight wins over both days.
“We held a practice Friday night, our first of the season and we really talked a lot about taking pride in the games this weekend and being focused on playing smart hockey” said head coach Tim McManus. “Our team was probably focused more than I have ever seen us this past weekend, Tim imposed a no drinking policy for the weekend and we spoke about getting a good nights sleep and being primed and ready to play each game, obviously this philosophy worked” said Sting captain Greg Thompson.
After defeating the very young and talented Pennsylvania Team Blue in two straight games (2-1 and 4-1) the Sting would face their rival the New Jersey Grizzlies in a five game series. Game 1 really set the tone for the entire series, as the Grizzlies would take a commanding 2-0 lead and then go on the power play with only 4 minutes remaining in the game. Surprisingly, the Grizzlies chose not to go for the “knock out punch” but decided to hold onto the puck and kill the full two minutes off the clock. To the delight of the Sting they were still within a two-goal deficit when the power play expired, prompting them to get very aggressive and draw a penalty of their own. “Once we got the power play, I knew if we could strike quick we could tie this game” said coach McManus. Greg Thompson would score only five ticks into the man advantage with the goaltender pulled. Then after winning the next face off, goaltender Pete Pennecke would be summoned to the bench once again for the extra attacker, this time Jon Mosenson would score, tying the game 2-2. The Grizzlies were in shock as the Sting Bench erupted. Both teams would trade chances in overtime as both goalies would play awesome, with less than a minute to go in the extra frame, Anthony Pagano would score the winner (his second OT winner of the weekend.)
Game 2 would be played a little more open and both teams would get plenty of chances. After taking a 2-1 lead, the Grizzlies would give up three straight goals in the second half. John Healy would record two goals and two assists for the Sting including the game winner on the power play. Grizzlies captain Rob Fulton would be ejected late in the game after letting the referees know “his feelings” about the way they called the game. Most importantly for the Sting they would be taking home a 2-0 series lead and a free steak dinner, won on a bet made before the game.
Game 3 would take place Sunday morning and the Sting were very focused on “getting this series over immediately”. “Our guys did not want to give the Grizzlies any life, we knew we had to take them out while we had them on the ropes” added Sting goaltender Pete Pennecke. The Grizzlies would once again score the first goal and take a 1-0 lead on the power play. John Healy would answer back on the power play with .05 seconds left on the clock in the first half. This goal seemed to lift the Sting, who had a knack for scoring big goals at the right time all weekend. The Grizzlies would go on another power play midway through the second half and would look to take the lead again. But the Sting’s Brendan Nelson would have other ideas as he carried the puck the end of the rink and found a wide open Sean Kearney for the “shorty”. Minutes later Kearney would score his second of the game and eventually John Healy would ice the game, giving the Sting the 4-1 victory.
After losing last year in the conference finals to the Grizzlies when holding the best record in the league, it felt great for the Sting to come in as the underdog and play spoiler this time around. “We are more focused this year to play well and play as a unit, not one player can carry this team we need every player to chip in and this weekend they did. Having two excellent goalies that can rotate games is a huge advantage in this format, especially with so many back to back games” said coach McManus. The Suffolk Sting are very excited to be taking their winning streak to Colorado to play the winner of the other conference. “We have all heard great things about the job PIHA does at their finals, we are looking forward to playing in front of a big crowd” said Ryan Carey. Hopefully the Sting can take home the PIHA title and bring it back to the east coast where it belongs! (Jimmy Olson reporting)