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Published: Monday, 3/14/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

PHOTO GALLERY

Knights claim 1st state title

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Matt Opblinger thrusts his hands skyward after scoring the winning goal Sunday as St. Francis beat Lakewood St. Edward. Matt Opblinger thrusts his hands skyward after scoring the winning goal Sunday as St. Francis beat Lakewood St. Edward.
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COLUMBUS -- In a classic showdown befitting a title contest, it took overtime and a storybook goal by the youngest player on the St. Francis de Sales roster to capture the first state hockey championship in school history.

St. Francis' Ben Torchia checks Lakewood St. Edward's Nick Crosby in the third period. St. Francis' Ben Torchia checks Lakewood St. Edward's Nick Crosby in the third period.
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Freshman Matt Opblinger scored the biggest goal in the annals of the Knights' hockey program yesterday. Opblinger's power play goal came with 3:52 left in OT. It enabled the Knights to slay perennial power Lakewood St. Edward 2-1 Sunday at Nationwide Arena.

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St. Francis goalie Thomas Kosinski turns back a shot on goal by Lakewood St. Edward's Mick Bartholomew during second period play Sunday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. St. Francis won 2-1. St. Francis goalie Thomas Kosinski turns back a shot on goal by Lakewood St. Edward's Mick Bartholomew during second period play Sunday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. St. Francis won 2-1.
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"It's amazing," said a beaming Opblinger as his teammates skated around the rink with the state trophy. "To be a freshman out on the power play with the state championship on the line in overtime, I was lucky to be out there. It's shocking that it's me -- a freshman -- that scored the winning goal to be the first [St. Francis] team to win state. It's the greatest feeling."

Opblinger scored on a shot from the side of the net that bounced off Eagles goalie Jonathan Lacoste's stick and over his shoulder as the St. Francis fans erupted.

"It's unbelievable," said St. Francis coach Brian Kinsella. "Today being the first to do it in the history of the school is very, very special. For all the hard work that all the past teams did to get here, it's a great, great accomplishment. For all 20 of the guys on my team, they worked so hard to get here today. We knew it would be a game like this. We just kept praying and praying that we could make history. And today the guys did."

St. Francis de Sales celebrates their state championship after defeating Lakewood St. Edwards 2-1 in overtime at Nationwide Arena. St. Francis de Sales celebrates their state championship after defeating Lakewood St. Edwards 2-1 in overtime at Nationwide Arena.
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Junior goalie Thomas Kosinski was solid and exceptional at times, finishing with 25 saves.

"I had one of the best games of my life," Kosinski said. "I was nervous but I was prepared and ready to go. I knew if I kept saving them, the guys would eventually get one and they did. It was the best feeling of my life."

Junior Ben Torchia kept his hot streak alive with a goal in the first period. He nearly scored the game winner with a solo breakaway in OT. Torchia got free with a great move, and he drew a penalty that led to the decisive power goal.

"I took the pass from Murph [Tyler Murphy] and it was a one and one," Torchia said. "I just made a good move around him, and I got hauled down."

Torchia, who had hat tricks in the district championship and in the state semifinal, assisted on Opblinger's game winner.

"We got the win that matters the most. This is incredible," Torchia said. "I tackled [Opblinger]. I was on the bottom of the pile with him."

St. Francis (34-4-1) had been ranked No. 1 in the state all season. But the Knights had made it to the final only one other time, finishing second in 1988. Lakewood St. Edward (26-15-4) had qualified for the state final four 19 times and had won 11 championships. The fifth-ranked Eagles last won a title in 2008 after they defeated St. Francis 4-2 in that year's semifinal.

But the Knights defeated the Eagles for the fifth time this season.

"They have great history. They're good every year," Kinsella said. "The fact that we played them so many times, our kids were ready. We knew it would be a battle to the end because they were confident we couldn't beat them five times."

St. Francis controlled the first period and St. Ed dominated the second. After a scoreless and evenly played third period, it went to OT.

St. Francis gained the edge the longer the game went on because St. Ed had to play just 18 hours after an exhausting, four overtime victory in the state semifinals.

"The kids laid it all on the line," St. Edward coach Troy Gray said. "They could have had dead legs and made excuses. But they came out and battled and powered through it. We fought that team tooth and nail. It was a tremendous hockey game. [St. Francis] has a lot of talent. You can't put a team like that on the power play. That's a heck of a team."

St. John's Jesuit had been the only team from the metropolitan Toledo area to capture a state title (2007).

"We told our kids we had a chance to make history," Kinsella said. "We knew it was going to be a great game."

The Knights wasted no time, showing early eagerness by scoring just 20 seconds in on their first shot of the game. Torchia's long shot deflected off of a St. Edward defenseman and sailed past Lacoste (20 saves).

But St. Edward answered when Danny O'Sullivan scored 2:05 into the second period. Sullivan tipped in a shot from C.J. Hoy to knot it at 1.

It would be the only one to beat Kosinski, who played every minute of every game and had no backup. The 5-foot-6 junior came up with a huge glove save with six minutes left in OT. He was awarded the game puck by his teammates and coaches.

"We had to make sure he saw shots," Kinsella said. "Against St. Ed, he always came up with a huge save and then we would come back and score. The game could have been flipped the other way had he not stood on his head. Without him, you don't win this championship."

Connor Frey, Scott Wawrzyniak, and Senior Nate Opblinger (Matt's brother), all had one assist.

"This is awesome," Nate Opblinger said. "We're going down in the record books at St. Francis. And my brother got the game winner. I'm speechless."

NOTES: It was just Matt Opblinger 10th goal of the season. … Torchia finished with a team-high 46 goals this season. … The Knights trailed 7-5 in shots on goal, but led 1-0 after the first period. …The Knights and Eagles entered overtime tied at 1 after St. Ed held a 24-19 edge in shots. …The physicality picked up in OT with big hits registered by both teams. …Trochia stole the puck in the Eagles' end with less than 15 seconds left to set up two great chances for himself from in close. But Lacoste stopped both shots to send it into OT. …The Knights could not score on a power play on a penalty called with 7:08 left. Lacoste made another key save and then Torchia missed high. …Both goalies came up with critical stops in the second. Torchia looked like he had scored when he brought the puck from behind the net and tried to stuff it in but the ref blew the whistle when Lacoste covered it up.

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com or 419-724-6354.



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