Ashburn, Va. (February 25, 2015) — It just so happened that – in order for the Stone Bridge Bulldogs to win their Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League (NVSHL) semifinal game Wednesday night at the Ashburn Ice House – they only needed a semi-game.
Playing like there were dinner reservations to be kept, the top-seeded Bulldogs (12-0) stormed around the ice from the second the puck dropped until the moment they scored their 11th goal, clinching an 11-1 mercy-rule win over the 5-seed Broad Run Spartans (10-3) in under an hour.
Their reward – other than neighborhood bragging rights throughout the off-season – is a trip to the NVSHL championship game inside Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington on Friday at 6:30 pm to face 3-seed Bishop O’Connell (9-1-2).
From the first drop of the puck until the last goal sizzled into the twine, seemingly every movement the Bulldogs made was geared toward propelling the disc into the net. And it worked, again and again.
Luke Giroux scored when the game was 17 seconds young. By the time two minutes were played, Cade Groton had added another. At the five-minute mark, it was 3-0 and the ubertalented Bulldogs just kept coming.
It was 6-1 after one period, and 11-1 with 4:30 remaining in the second, reaching the league’s 10-goal differential for an automatic win.
Stone Bridge’s veteran head coach John Lynch said his team controlled the game, forcing the Spartans into low-angle shots. On the other end, Lynch said the Bulldogs’ passing was as efficient and purposeful as he’d seen in a while.
“The effort was fantastic,” Lynch praised his players. “You saw from the opening face-off that they were going to attack and attack and attack.”
Thanks to some snappy passing in the offensive zone, Groton garnered a hat trick in the first period, which closed at 6-1. He ended with five goals, while Giroux, Griffin Vosbeck and Connor Lenaghan each notched a pair.
Giroux, Ryan Leibold and Andrew Sabol were credited with three assists apiece.
Goalie Sam Kukulich knocked aside 17 shots for the Bulldogs. Broad Run goaltender Josh Mitchell made 18 saves, while Mitch Rebholz scored the Spartans’ only goal late in the first, assisted by Alec Freyberger and Tyler Lohmeyer.
After a lackluster quarterfinal performance on Monday which saw Stone Bridge barely survive 11-seed Langley — tied 4-4 late before the Bulldogs won 6-4 – the phrases “on a mission” and “sense of urgency” seemed to apply.
“We knew we didn’t play well the other day,” said Groton, leading his team with 21 goals as a junior. “We knew [the Spartans] were a good team, we just had to jump on them early. Once we got that first goal, we knew we’d start rolling.”
It wasn’t expected to be this way. When the Spartans and Bulldogs met on the same ice in the regular season, the two Ashburn teams were deadlocked at 2-2 in the third before Stone Bridge pulled away at 6-2.
Though the blowout loss was both jarring and disappointing to the Spartans, first-year head coach Kevin Kremer stepped back and looked at his team’s season, which began with six straight wins and ended in the league’s final four.
“The season was very good for us,” Kremer said. “We won all the games we should have and maybe a couple we shouldn’t have.”
Kremer will look to replace the production of captain Charlie Berry and the toughness of Devon Rook, the Spartans’ two seniors. But there is much for Broad Run hockey fans to look forward to, according to Kremer.
Rebholz (19 goals, 37 points) figures to be back in Spartan maroon and gold, as does Lohmeyer (21 goals, 43 points), Danny Haurin (15 goals, 23 points) and Nick Pignetti (19 points).
“We just need to keep building this program,” Kremer said. “We’re looking toward the future more so than the past.”
For Stone Bridge, the future is now…or, at least, Friday night. The Bulldogs own five NVSHL titles since 2002, but were knocked out by Briar Woods in each of the past two years.
Groton has never won one, and very much wants to.
“Friday’s big,” Groton said. “We’ve probably been one of the best teams in the regular season the past two years…. We definitely want this one.”
O’Connell seeks its first league crown. Stone Bridge battled the Knights in Ashburn on Dec.19, as Groton earned a hat trick in a 5-1 Bulldog win.
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