COLUMBUS - Northview took one small step closer to a state hockey championship and one giant leap toward making school history and rewarding a wildly supportive community.
The Wildcats carried most of the play, scored two second-period goals and then hung on for a 2-1 triumph over Hunting Valley University School in a state semifinal battle yesterday at Nationwide Arena.
The Northview faithful far outnumbered the University School supporters with a boisterous student section of about 350 along with many other fans scattered around the arena.
Northview (31-3-2) is just one game away from winning the first state title in any sport in school history. The Wildcats face off against Parma Padua Franciscan here today in the state championship at 2 p.m. The Bruins (23-10-3) downed Upper Arlington 7-4 in yesterday's other semifinal.
Sophomore Brandon Snead scored a power-play goal, and junior Zak Pizza tallied an even-strength goal for the Wildcats, who outshot the Preppers 27-13.
"You try to look at it as another game," said goalie Bobby McElheney, who made 12 saves and improved to 19-0-2 on the season. "But at the same time, not only do you see your peers who drove two-and-a-half hours and paid seven bucks to watch you play, but you also see 30 years worth of alumni that are wearing the colors and flying the terrible towels. You try to go in as level-headed as you can, but you really want to do it for them."
The throng was loud throughout, pounding on the boards and yelling chants.
"We won the battle of the crowds," said Northview coach Jim Cooper. "There's a lot of enthusiasm in the community. This particular school has not won a state title. So it's a pretty starved community."
University School did not make it easy, as it pulled within one midway through the final period. With 8:17 remaining, Patrick Germovsek scored on the power play to make it 2-1. The Preppers then pulled goalie Brian Tighe with 1:32 left, and McElheney was tested until the final buzzer.
"With the atmosphere it wasn't tough to stay focused at all," he said. "I was just hoping the clock would be ticking a lot faster than it was. That third period was intense. Our defense was phenomenal. People give me all the credit, but it goes to all five guys in front of me."
Northview held a 16-6 lead in shots at the midpoint of the game, but still had not scored. The Preppers managed just two shots in the second period.
The Wildcats finally broke the ice with two goals in a span of just three minutes and 31 seconds. Snead deflected senior Adam Thanasiu's shot from the point by Tighe for a power-play goal with 3:51 left in the period.
"This was a thrill," Snead said. "It was a big rush. I don't know how to explain it. Our seniors are amazing, and the underclassmen have been the backbone."
Less than four minutes later, Pizza's shot from the left point deflected off of University School defenseman Matt Snyder's skate and got past Tighe. Pizza's unassisted goal was a dagger as it found the back of the net with just 20 seconds left in the period.
"It gave you so much adrenaline right away," Pizza said. "Just the feeling out there made me want to play so hard."
Northview led 2-0 after two periods while holding a 20-7 lead in shots. The Wildcats were whistled for three third-period penalties, but still outshot the Preppers 7-6.
It marks the first time that a team from northwest Ohio has reached the state final since 1999.
"They're the best and deepest team we've faced in Ohio," said University School coach Bill Beard. "They have three lines that you have to worry about. You don't win 31 games by accident."
Cooper and his counterpart agreed that the Wildcats' depth and goaltending were the difference.
Northview is playing in its first state final since 1990, and tickets are still available.
Parma Padua, which scored five goals in the first period yesterday, has two state titles and last reached the final in 2001.
"This team has been amazing," Cooper said. "We've been very businesslike. Our situation [today] will be pretty much the same. It was total chaos at the end of this one, so I don't know how it can get any more intense or draining."
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com or 419-724-6110.39.96196 -83.00298