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Published: Saturday, 2/13/2010

Knights capture NHC Red crown

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

St. Francis de Sales had waited 11 years for this. So what was an extra hour?

The Knights, ranked No. 1 in Ohio, captured their first Northwest Hockey Conference title since 1999 with a 4-2 win Friday night over rival St. John's before a spirited crowd of 2,000 fans at Tam O'Shanter.

Ultimately, St. Francis hopes to raise a more important banner - a state championship - but last night's accomplishment was certainly a grand one.

"The kids knew about [the 11-year drought] in the dressing room," SF coach Brian Kinsella said. "We kind of gave them a little boost and said it would be nice to win against a great team."

The win for the Knights (28-2-3, 8-0-1 NHC) concludes a series sweep of St. John's. SF prevailed in overtime last month. Had St. John's (17-9-3. 6-2-1) won last night, it would have pulled even with the Knights atop the NHC Red Division.

St. Francis made the most of an extended power play in the period, scoring a pair of goals to take its first lead 3-2. Moments after the Titans' Dan St. John joined teammate George Wilkinson in the penalty box, St. Francis capitalized on the 5-on-3 on a score by Nate Opblinger 9:06 into the period. Scott Loy and Ben Torchia assisted on the goal.

From there, senior defenseman David Torchia made it 3-2 when he slapped a shot past St. John's goalie Mike Brahaney from about 20 feet away.

"We kind of figured with the way the teams play that there would be a lot of power plays and penalty kills," Kinsella said.

David Torchia nearly beat Brahaney again later in the period, but the Titans' netminder made a great save with his glove to prevent the period from being even more of a disaster.

"That's a team you can't take penalties against," St. John's coach Mike Hayes said. "They were lazy penalties, which pretty much describes our game. Lazy."

Hayes was upset with the unordinary wetness on the ice, which he said was a reason for St. Francis' first goal by Reid Kersey early in the second. Hayes said his defensemen attempted to clear the puck but puddles of water prevented the puck from traveling a desirable distance. Hayes believes Kersey's goal may not have happened on a dryer surface.

"I've never seen in that bad," Hayes said. "I don't want to make excuses because we didn't come close to bringing our A game, but it's frustrating when these things happen."

St. John's then scored when Kyle Knox redirected a shot from teammate Ryan Rapp into the net.

The Knights notched their final goal on an empty-netter by Connor Frey with 28 seconds to go.

Even though St. Francis registered more shots on goal (16-10) in the first period, the Titans had more realistic scoring opportunities and largely dominated possession in the period. SJ scored the game's first goal when Nick Walla converted a flurry in front of the net just 1:27 into the contest. Assisting were Eric Brown and Jake Kennedy.

With a few seconds left in the first period, Walla nearly added another score but couldn't convert against goalie Jeff Davis. Brown made a shifty move to free himself of a defender's watch before finding Walla, who was beating stalked by Davis the whole time.

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160



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