For the second year in a row, the Byram Hills hockey team crossed paths with the John Jay Indians in the semifinal round of the Section 1, Division 2 playoffs.
And for the second year in a row, it was the Indians who advanced to the championship game, while the Bobcats made another frustrating exit from the Brewster Ice Arena.
Sophomore forward Jack Browne scored three times, while Brian Daley added two goals and two assists, as the top-seeded Indians skated past fourth-seeded Byram Hills 8-3 on Friday night. Two of Browne’s scores came during a four-goal, third-period explosion by John Jay that turned the contest into a rout.
“They’re very disappointed,” said Bobcats head coach A.J. Cloherty after his players had slowly skated off the ice for the last time this season. “They had high hopes and expectations coming into this season, and rightfully so. They really wanted a chance to play for the big one on Saturday and they fell just short.”
Despite a second period in which John Jay controlled the puck, outshooting the Bobcats by a whopping 18-8 margin, a goal by Will Cohen with 2:38 remaining moved Byram Hills within 3-2. Unfortunately for the Bobcats, just 90 seconds later, the Indians’ Chase Goldman, who finished with a goal and three assists, skated up the right wing, then made a perfect pass to the left side of the crease where a waiting Browne easily tipped the puck past goalie Grace Lunder.
“Yeah, if we stick to 3-2 after the second period, it’s a totally different game,” said Cloherty. “But they caught us flat-footed. One of our defensemen made a mistake, they capitalized on it, 4-2, and that really took the wind out of our sails. But they did dominate us in the second period. They came out hot and our players couldn’t counter their attack. That’s why there’s the 10-shot differential.”
The goal by Browne, his first of the game, with 59 seconds left in the second period enabled the Indians to take a two-goal lead to the final period. The Bobcats never really recovered, and just 64 seconds into the third period Browne tallied his second goal, all but putting an end to the Byram title aspirations.
“We told the kids,” said Cloherty, “if we give up that fifth goal, it’s gonna be a rough rest of the period. And the first minute and a half, they scored a goal. That was that. You could see the disappointment on the kids’ faces and it’s hard to bounce back.”
It was actually John Jay that had to bounce back earlier in the evening. A goal by senior John Fontana, assisted by Michael Salandra, with just under five minutes remaining in the opening period put the Bobcats on the scoreboard first. But the Indians’ John McKeon knotted the score with 1:27 left in the period.
The Indians, who would go on to win the section championship the next day, grabbed the lead for good on a tip-in goal by Daley with 8:40 to go in the second period, moments after a Bobcat power play had ended. Just 24 seconds later, Goldman gave John Jay a 3-1 cushion by skating down the right wing, moving to his left and sending a shot past Lunder.
The goal by the Bobcats’ Cohen late in the second period that sliced the Jay lead in half seemed to give Byram hope again, but the Indians quickly dashed those hopes with their third-period onslaught that left Lunder removing the puck from the net over and over again.
“The defense hung her out to dry,” said Cloherty. “She’s great at everything. The one weakness is the breakaways and we gave up way too many breakaways for her to handle. She’s probably disappointed because she holds herself to such a high standard. But as a coach, I couldn’t have asked for her to do anything more. In the second period, she made seven or eight impossible saves at point-blank range that most goalies would let in.”
The Bobcats had advanced to face John Jay by defeating fifth-seeded Pearl River 6-3 in Tuesday night’s quarterfinal game in Brewster. Salandra, just a freshman, had three goals and an assist. It was his power-play goal with just a second remaining in the second period that broke a 2-2 deadlock and gave the Bobcats the lead for good. His empty-netter with 37 seconds left in the game sealed the outcome.
Regrettably for the Bobcats, the same John Jay team that had ended their 2016-17 season with a tension-filled 1-0 double overtime win in last year’s semifinals was waiting for them again. This time, though, there was far less drama.
“It was still a great season,” said Cloherty. “The season we put together, the schedule, it was the hardest you’ll see in the last 20 years that we’ve had. Filled with huge D 1 teams. We only played five D 2 opponents. It was a success. It helped prepare us and it made us stronger.”
Asked when he’ll start planning for the inevitable showdown with the Indians next year, he answered, “For me, personally, immediately, even though my girlfriend will hate me for it.”
Andy is a sports editor at Examiner Media, covering seven high schools in the mid-Westchester region with a notebook and camera. He began there in the fall of 2007 following 15 years as a candid photographer for the largest school picture company in the tri-state area.