COLUMBUS — The long wait is finally over for the Northview hockey program.
The Wildcats captured the school’s first team state title in any sport as they knocked off perennial powerhouse Lakewood St. Edward 5-2 in the championship game on Sunday afternoon.
The hockey program was founded in 1976 and eight times it had earned a spot in the state semifinals. The 2012 team refused to be denied a crown.
Cody Estrel scored two goals and both came in the first period when Northview built a 2-0 lead at Nationwide Arena. Drew Crandall scored the game winner while Dalton Carter added insurance and Nick LaPlante put it away with an empty net goal.
“This means the world to me,” said Estrel, a sophomore. “It will always be there. It’s the greatest feeling in the world. I’m speechless. Amazing. I worked all my life for this. We’ll always be in the history books.”
Goalie Austin Gryca finished off an undefeated senior season with 26 saves. Gryca (16-0-1) was strong and at times spectacular, only yielding two goals before a crowd of 2,255.
“State champs. It sounds amazing,” Gryca said. “I can’t stop saying it. It just rolls off the tongue. It means a lot to us. No one has done this before. It seems so unreal now. There couldn’t have been a better way to end the year.”
Senior Zach Felser had two assists with both coming on the crucial first two goals.
Northview led 3-0 after two periods and Carter stuck a dagger as he scored 1:15 into the third period for a 4-0 Northview edge. Carter’s power play goal came on assists from LaPlante and Brady Storer before the Eagles scored consecutive goals. LaPlante added an empty netter with six seconds left.
“It’s unbelievable,” Storer said. “I can’t even put it into words. It’s crazy. We came together as a team. This is our dream.”
St. Eds entered the game with a record 11 state titles, while Northview had finished second four times (2010, 2006, 1990, and 1982). Gryca was in the net and coach Mike Jones was behind the bench when the Wildcats fell short two years ago.
LaPlante also had an assist and sophomore Jacob Koback also had a helper.
Northview (31-1-3), which finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the final state poll, wrapped up the season with an 18-game winning streak.
St. Eds (20-13-3) got two goals from Gabe Lampron, who also scored the game winner in the Eagles’ 3-2 overtime win over University School in the semifinals on Saturday. Senior goalie Logan Galati finished with 13 saves.
The Eagles finished with a 26-17 edge in shots on goal. Gryca was perfect in the first and second periods. The senior made several saves late in the second to protect the three-goal cushion.
St. Edward coach Troy Gray credited Gryca after the game.
“Their goalie played a heck of a game. He had a ton of shots against him,” Gray said. “He gave them enough time to get going. We’re familiar with them and we knew what we had to do to win. It wasn’t enough.”
Gryca made a great stop as he slid to his left and made a leg save to maintain the 1-0 lead early in the game. He had to be strong again as he made a glove save and another stop midway through the first.
Just 1:15 into the game, Estrel scored as he beat Galati through his legs.
The Wildcats scored on their second rush of the game. Felser, who had two goals in the state semifinals, set up Estrel’s goal.
“That got our team going,” Estrel said. “St. Eds shut down right away after that.”
Estrel’s second goal was a perfect display of the team’s high skill level and smooth puck movement.
The goal capped a beautiful, unselfish play as Koback and Felser assisted. The tape-to-tape pass gave Felser a wide open solo chance but he instead passed the puck to Estrel who skated to the side of Galati and tapped it in for a 2-0 lead.
“Just gorgeous,” Jones said. “I see that in practice every week. That is as good a hockey play that you’re ever going to see.”
Felser showed great patience to hold the puck and get Galati out of position for Estrel’s goal.
Northview was outshot 11-8 in the first period, but Gryca was solid. A minute into the second, he came up with a kick save to maintain a two-goal lead.
Crandall made it 3-0 just 2:22 into the period. His unassisted goal came after the puck bounced off the dasher board behind the Eagle net and bounced to the side of Galati. Crandall slammed it in for the three-goal edge. At the game’s midpoint, St. Eds held a 13-10 advantage in shots.
“We talked after the second intermission that the next 15 minutes was for a lifetime,” Felser said. “We knew it would be a battle. My hats off to them. They are a very good team.”
Carter made it 4-0 when he rifled a shot that beat Galati over his shoulder.
“Chemistry is what got us here,” Carter said. “Getting the first [title] is the hardest thing to do.”
Lampron scored two goals about seven minutes apart as he pulled St. Edward within 4-2 with 49 seconds left. LaPlante’s second point came on a long empty-net goal.
A large Northview student section were clad in black and the Wildcats’ faithful far outnumbered the Eagles fans. St. Eds was making its 20th trip to the final four.
It was the second year in a row that at team from northwest Ohio captured a hockey title and second time in a row that St. Edward lost in the final. St. Francis de Sales won the first state title in school history with a 2-1 win over the Eagles last year.
Gryca got the start in net after fellow senior goalie Phil Bowles led Northview to a 6-0 shutout over Olentangy Orange in the state semis on Saturday.
“I couldn’t have done it without my team,” Gryca said. “They helped me throughout the game. I knew Phil could handle it and I knew I would be fresh for this game.”
Jones said he had been alternating his senior goalies toward the end of the season.
“I knew if I had a fresh tender in here this morning our chances go up dramatically. He didn’t have to be on his feet yesterday. He got some rest and he made me look like a genius,” Jones said. “He had a chance to do this two years ago and it got by him. He’s been thinking about this opportunity for two years and he rose to the occasion.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.