The University School Preppers’ hockey team always has four items on its checklist before the start of the season.
The Preppers checked off another box from their list when they defeated neighborhood rival Gilmour 3-2 to win the first Cleveland Cup championship in school history last Saturday evening at the OBM Arena in Strongsville.
“It’s awesome,” said Preppers’ Coach Andy Gerow. “These guys have worked so hard in the weight room all the way back to June and all of that hard work has finally paid off.”
It marks the first time the Preppers (24-8-1, 5-3-0) have won their divisional postseason tournament since 2012-13 season, when they captured the Baron Cup I trophy, their eighth one, before moving into the GLHL.
Since moving into the Great Lakes Hockey League from the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League Red North Division, the Preppers had appeared in the Cleveland Cup final five times and each time they finished as the runners-up.
The sixth time was the charm as University School topped their SOM Center rivals for the third time this season to become Cleveland Cup champions.
“This group is a special group,” said the fifth-year coach. “It starts with the leadership up top and it just goes to show that on Saturday night, everybody chipped in. We had two goals from our third line which was awesome to see and it is huge for our program to finally get over that hump and get the win.”
It marks the first time University School won its divisional tournament before the district tournament began.
According to Gerow, a member of the 2009 state title team, he sees a lot of parallels between that team and his current University School squad.
“That 2008-09 team had great leadership and had great players and it was a family,” he said. “This group is a lot like that. We have great leadership from Samonta Martin, Kellen McGarry and Will Genovese and everybody buys in. Everybody does their part. There is still another tournament we need to play that is coming up so we will continue to work hard but we are super happy for this group.”
The Preppers had already swept the regular season series against Gilmour (17-14-2, 5-3-0) in league play and were tied for first place with Padua for the GLHL season title going into the final week of the regular season.
The Lancers came alive in the final weekend of regular season play and won their final three league games, forcing a three-way tie with University School and the Bruins and continued their postseason surge by beating Padua 2-1 in the semifinals.
That paved the way for the neighborhood rivals to meet in the championship for the Battle of SOM Center round three, the first time in Cleveland Cup history the teams played each other for the postseason league title.
In the previous two meetings, the Preppers had taken the early lead when senior right wing T.J. Lavelle tipped in a shot from the top of the right shooter’s circle off the stick of freshman defenseman Carson Barlow with 11:01 remaining in the first period.
“I have to give credit to my boy Gavin Jones at center,” said the University School right wing. “He had a great win off of the draw and it went right back to Carson and he just threw it right on the net and I tipped my stick and it went right through the five-hole.”
Gerow said the Preppers have done a nice job of striking fast in all of their games this season.
“They do a really good job,” he said. “That is something we emphasize of trying to get on the board first and they did a really nice job. Carson did a nice job of stepping up on the ice and getting a nice shot and T.J. parked his butt in front and got the tip to make it go in.”
University School controlled the puck in the Lancers’ defensive zone and during a mad scramble at the net, senior goalkeeper Evan Underwood leaned too far to his left and left the net wide open, and senior left wing Samonte Martin buried a wrist shot from the right shooter’s circle to push the lead to 2-0 at the 8:15 mark of the first period.
Gilmour responded late in the first period when senior forward Luke Radtke followed up on a blocked shot from senior center Matthew Bauman and tapped the puck in from the goalkeeper’s crease, with an additional assist credited to senior defensemen Jacob Malinas with 1:08 left remaining.
The Preppers still controlled the first period and outshot Gilmour 5-2.
University School got that goal back in the second period when junior left wing Mark Filippelli skated the puck in from the left shooter’s circle and shot it past Underwood off assists from junior defensemen Michael Matthews and sophomore Ryder Beegun.
With the team having plenty of goal-scorers, it was University School’s third line that dealt the Lancers the most damage.
“I think the third line has had two goals in another game this season,” Gerow said. “They have been doing a really nice job all season. Every game is different and we look to different guys chipping in and that is what we did on Saturday night.”
After Matthews was issued a two-minute penalty for hooking, the Lancers converted the power play when Bauman rifled a shot into the net from the blue line off assists from Radke and junior forward Colton Fairchild at the 3:19 mark of the second period.
In a game filled with gritty defense, the majority of goals did not come on shots near the net but rather from long distance.
“Both teams are very good defensively and in these games it is about getting a bounce or two and we were fortunate to have it go our way tonight so that was big,” said Gerow.
Neither team could score in the third period and Gilmour pulled Underwood in the final minute of regulation to set up a six-on-five advantage.
The Lancers won a face-off in the Preppers’ defensive zone with less than 30 seconds remaining but could not sniff the net, and University School conquered their Cleveland Cup championship demons.
“With six-on-five, we have been working on that all year,” said Lavelle. “We had a really tough loss against Walsh Jesuit a couple of weeks ago and I think we really learned from that and we were able to hold our composure in big moments like this when other teams pull their goalie.”
University School will compete against the winner of the Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin-Kent Roosevelt game in the second round of the Kent district tournament at 5 p.m. on Friday at the KSU Ice Arena.
Meanwhile, the Lancers will play either Nordonia or Orange in the second round at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
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