In the blink of an eye, defending state hockey champion Northview saved its season and earned a return trip to Columbus.
Senior Zander Pryor scored two goals just 14 seconds apart with less than four minutes remaining to lead the Wildcats to a stunning district championship.
Northview rallied for a 3-2 win over top-seeded St. John's Jesuit before a sellout crowd of 1,650 at Tam-O-Shanter on Saturday.
“This is nuts,” Pryor said right after the final horn sounded and his teammates had swarmed the ice. “I'm still in a different place now. This is so great.”
Down 2-1, Northview's season was just moments away from ending when Pryor's first goal came on a frantic scrum in front of St. John's goalie Mike Barrett. Pryor tied it with 3:51 left.
“It was a mad scramble,” Pryor said.
On the ensuing face off, the Wildcats rushed up ice and Pryor beat Barrett again.
“There was a huge emotion swing there,” Northview coach Mike Jones said. “It went from how in the world are we ever going to get another puck in, to how are we going to keep one out. We knew if we could pop one in late, we had a chance.”
Xavier Sudlow scored the first goal as the Wildcats grabbed a 1-0 lead early in the second period.
But St. John's scored the next two goals to take a 2-1 lead into the third period. The Titan's Austin Kelly had a goal and an assist, while Colin Suter scored the go-ahead marker.
Northview goalie David Marsh stopped 34 shots to get the win.
“I had all the confidence in the world in the boys in front of me,” Marsh said. “I trusted them and they trusted me. That's all we needed.”
Northview (26-6-1) makes a return trip to the state final four. The Wildcats face Powell Olentangy Liberty in the state semis on Friday at Nationwide Arena.
St. John's (26-8-0) finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the state, while Northview was fifth. The Titans were in control over much of the first two periods when they outshot the Wildcats 27-12.
“This one clearly is the most disappointing loss I've ever experienced,” St. John's coach Mike Hayes said. “I thought we played two great periods. But we didn't separate ourselves. And then we tried to hang on in the third. We were begging them to get on the attack. We just couldn't do it.”
Dominic Horvath had two assists for St. John's.
A standing-room-only crowd included boisterous student sections and fans up against the glass around the rink.
After a scoreless first period, Northview struck first. Sudlow tipped Bailey Breitigam's shot from the point and it found its way behind Barrett for a 1-0 lead 1:30 into the second period.
The Titans responded with consecutive goals in span of 4:13. Kelly scored a power play goal to tie it up. Kelly scored on a rebound off of an initial shot by Horvath to knot it at 1 with 10:47 left in the period. Suter then gave St. John's a 2-1 lead with a backhander.
Suter showed incredible patience to beat Marsh. He went to the backhand and lifted the puck over Marsh for a one-goal lead with 6:34 to go in the middle period.
Barrett had three tremendous saves early in the third to protect the lead. Northview had two power plays early in the third but Barrett stood tall. Marsh was equally solid throughout.
After Pryor's goals, Northview had to kill off a late St. John's power play. Hayes also pulled his goalie with 43 seconds left.
“We're Northview,” Pryor said. “We have pride and we have great players. We have chemistry. We are a family. That showed tonight because we came back.”
Northview also ended the Titans' season last year in the district final. St. John's has reached the district title game three straight years and has lost all three times.
St. John’s and Northview had split their games this season. The Titans won 4-2, while Northview won 1-0. The Titans were ranked behind top-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius for the entire regular season.
But the state final four features four public schools for the first time. Rocky River will be Shaker Heights in the other state semifinal.
“Coming back from we did last year is so hard,” Jones said. “We've been up against it all year and they pushed forward and they got the results they wanted. We're excited to get back there.”
Contact Mark Monroe at:
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