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When one thinks of the success the Sweet Home Panthers’ athletic programs have had over the years, what typically crosses the mind are the championships their football, basketball, soccer or volleyball teams have won.

Men’s hockey can now be included in the conversation.

It’s possible now to call Sweet Home a hockey school after winning the first state title in school history on Sunday afternoon at the HarborCenter. By defeating West Seneca West 7-5, a hole that had been in the program’s collective psyche for nearly 20 years is now closed.

“After all of these years, I’ve never experienced anything quite like this,” coach Dave Gerspach said. “I’ve been involved in the program since day one, and our school has had success in a lot of different areas for a long time. But now we’re champions, and I love the kids we have on this team.”

Senior Tyler Edholm, the MVP of the state tournament with a pair of hat tricks, felt validated by the victory.

“No one believed in us all year long,” Edholm said. “Even though we were ranked number one in the state, I’m sure no one expected us to win a state championship – except for the guys in that locker room. We’re a hockey school now, and hopefully we’ve changed that perception of us by proving everyone wrong.”

Despite running roughshod through the regular season, the Panthers felt like an underdog throughout the postseason. It was a label that made sense to many, given that the team was an at-large wild card after falling to the Indians in the Section VI title game at the KeyBank Center just two weeks prior.

After notching wins over state powerhouses like Northeastern Clinton and Auburn, however, the Panthers’ confidence reached an all-time high heading into Sunday’s game.

“To experience back-to-back games like today and beating Auburn yesterday, that’s what high school sports is all about,” Gerspach said. “To go through obstacles like we have – being on a road trip from hell in the regionals and beating a really talented team yesterday – it was a phenomenal feeling to have coming into today.”

Early on, the Indians appeared ready to meet the challenge of matching their football counterparts with a title of their own. Ethan Parsons and Kyle Haettich scored for WSW to open up a 2-0 lead ten minutes into the first period, and the team began to dream of becoming the first school in New York State to win football and hockey state championships in the same year since Aquinas in 1998-99.

The freshman Ethan Parsons pits @hockey_wsw up 1-0 on @SHVarsityHockey early in P1 @NYSPHSAA @wnyfedhockey @nysswa @WNYAthletics — Frank Wolf (@wolf3328) March 11, 2018

5:48 left in P1 and @hockey_wsw goes up on @SHVarsityHockey 2-0 with a goal by Kyle Haettich. @NYSPHSAA Ice Hockey Small School Championship @HARBORCTR — Frank Wolf (@wolf3328) March 11, 2018

Then the Panthers woke up. And the Indians began to implode.

.@SHVarsityHockey leads @hockey_wsw 4-2. Have scored 4 unanswered, last goal by So. Blake Russo. Indians have taken 4 straight penalties, now calling a Time Out. 9:04 left in P2. @NYSPHSAA Ice Hockey Small School Championship — Frank Wolf (@wolf3328) March 11, 2018

With slightly more than three minutes to go, the Indians took the first of six penalties charged to them through the game’s first two periods. Edholm made them pay with his first power play goal of the day and then deflected a shot by Joseph Torrillo past Indians goalie Noah Sobczyk with the man-advantage with just 44 seconds remaining in the first.

The Panthers wouldn’t let up in the second period. Kyle Neudorf struck only 57 seconds into the period with a wrist shot – again on the man-advantage – and Blake Russo made it 4-2 shortly thereafter. Edholm got his third goal of the day midway through the period and Eric Abbate increased the Panthers’ lead to 6-2 on a breakaway.

“To get back-to-back hat tricks on the biggest stage and to make it look so easy – that just shows how much Tyler carried us this year,” Gerspach said. “He’s had a point in every game this year, and he’s been great.”

Nonetheless, the Indians wouldn’t quit. Billy Coughlin, Chase Chodkowski and Jacob Fort would score three of the next four goals in the game to cut their deficit to two – with Neudorf getting the Panthers’ last tally in between.

With under two minutes to play, the Panthers held on for dear life. As the final ten seconds ticked off the clock, all tension was laid to rest as euphoria became the sound on the ice and goaltender Michael Lisman was mobbed by his teammates and coaches.

The state title comes home Sweet Home@SHVarsityHockey @SHCSDAthletics — NYSPHSAA (@NYSPHSAA) March 11, 2018

“It’s such an incredible feeling to know you’re on top, and all the work we’ve put into this season has paid off,” Lisman said. “If this win doesn’t legitimize us as a hockey school, I don’t know what else would.

“The last few years, all of our sports teams have gone on long playoff runs and won championships. But I think it’s time for us to be considered as one of those teams that other schools circle on their schedules and say, ‘They’re going to be tough to beat’. We deserve that kind of recognition, and winning a title definitely helps.”

Sweet Home Post Game Interviews

Head Coach Dave Gerspach

Forward Kyle Neudorf

Goaltender Mike Lisman

Tournament MVP Tyler Edholm (courtesy of Dave Ricci)

Sweet Home’s Tyler Edholm on 1st state title win. @SHVarsityHockey — Dave Ricci (@DaveARicci) March 11, 2018

They proved a lot of people wrong, including me. Congrats to the 2017-18 @NYSPHSAA Ice Hockey Small School Champions the @SHVarsityHockey team. They defeated a very good @hockey_wsw club 7-5. @nysswa @travjax71 — Frank Wolf (@wolf3328) March 11, 2018

boys ice hockey

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