Over the past few weeks, the Horace Greeley hockey team has displayed quite a flair for the dramatic.
The Quakers did it again on Saturday night.
Dillon Rusiecki’s shorthanded, breakaway goal in the final 70 seconds lifted the host Quakers to yet another come-from-behind victory at the Brewster Ice Arena, this time 2-1 over the Masuk Panthers. The heroics by the senior co-captain enabled Greeley to complete a third-period comeback for the third consecutive weekend and even its record this season at 8-8.
“That’s kind of been our M.O.,” said Quakers head coach Dan Perito after watching his team step up once more in the third period. “We kind of start slow and then pick it up as the game goes along.”
Facing the Panthers from Monroe, Connecticut, Greeley found itself following the familiar recent habit of falling behind. Masuk controlled the puck during the game’s early minutes and eventually got on the scoreboard first as Paul Khorkin fired a shot from the right point and Brock Butkovsky knocked home the rebound with 4:43 remaining in the opening period.
Despite outshooting Masuk by an 8-5 margin over the first 15 minutes, the Quakers trailed 1-0 heading to the second period. But the complexion of the game really started to change once the Panthers’ TJ Scalia was whistled for a tripping penalty with just under six minutes left in the second period. Greeley peppered Masuk goalie Tag Weiss with shot after shot on the power play and kept up the pressure the rest of the period.
“Yeah, that power play gave us a lot of momentum going into the third period and at the end of the second,” said Perito. “Definitely we had at least four or five chances, golden opportunities, and we just couldn’t capitalize.”
When the teams skated off the ice after the second period, with the Quakers still trailing 1-0, Perito had a simple message for his players.
“All I said to ‘em was, ‘Look, there’s nothing we’ve gotta change.’ As far as the lines, we didn’t change much. Kept going with the third line as well to rest the other guys. And we got a goal from a guy that doesn’t usually score a lot, in Tony (Girardi). That gave us a little life there in the third period. From there, we were able to take advantage.”
The goal by Girardi, a sophomore defenseman, came just over two minutes into the final period on a shot from straightaway just a few strides inside the blue line. The resilient Quakers, who had overcome a 4-1 third-period deficit to win in overtime against Byram Hills two weeks earlier and then battled back from 4-2 down last week with three late goals against the combo team of Brookfield/Bethel/Danbury, were back in business once again.
“For whatever reason,” said Perito, “we can’t get out to an early lead and keep things rolling. But we never say die and we’re always there in the third period.”
Though the Quakers wound up outshooting Masuk 13-9 in the final period, the score remained the same for 11 minutes following the tying goal by Girardi. But the Panthers’ prospects for a victory suddenly increased after a skirmish in front of Greeley goalie Arye Wolberg left Masuk on a 90-second power play with just 1:53 left on the clock.
“I love that we have guys that want to stick up for teammates, stand up for our goalie as he’s taking some shots here or there,” said Perito. “But I told them there’s a time and place for that. You can’t do that with a minute and 53 left, tied 1-1 in the third period. Gotta be smarter.”
The Quakers were desperately trying to kill off the Panther power play when the puck somehow wound up on the stick of Rusiecki, who quickly burst out of the defensive zone with no one in his way. He headed straight down the ice, crossed the blue line and then wristed a shot past Weiss for the game-deciding goal with just 1:09 left to play.
“Of all those guys we want on a breakaway, he’s definitely one of them in a key situation like that,” Perito said of Rusiecki, who also had the tying goal with three minutes left in last week’s win over the BBD Ice Cats. “The puck shot out to their point. He saw that loose puck and then it was like a cannon off his butt. He was able to shoot up and then take off.”
Now with even more wind in their sails, the Quakers will conclude their regular season with a game at Suffern next Friday, then back-to-back home contests against Fox Lane and Pawling on Saturday and Sunday. According to Perito, the win over Masuk will pay dividends down the road.
“They were a big, physical team,” he said. “I think that’s good going into the playoffs, to get tested like that.”