Back-to-back 0-18 seasons. That was the reality for the Elizabethtown Area High School ice hockey club. The Bears had gone winless for two straight years. Coupled with a loss in the last game of the 2016-17 season, they had fallen in 37 straight contests.
However, the 2019-20 season has brought a sense of renewal for the program. Most visibly, Elizabethtown has a new head coach in Scott Cranston, who has taken over for the retired Don Doremus. But the Bears have slick new jerseys as well, and they’re now allowed to draw players from Donegal and Middletown (as of now, they have one player from each school).
“What they’ve talked about is a new beginning,” Cranston said. “We’re not trying to look in the past; this is a new team. Yet we realize the program has struggled, so we consciously trying to turn it around. We got new players, new jerseys … everything is new. It’s more of a team-cohesion thing. We’ve talked a lot about ‘we, not me.’ It doesn’t matter who scores or who’s out there; everybody’s gonna get their opportunities.”
First things first? Ending that losing streak. That’s exactly what Elizabethtown did to open up the year on Friday, Nov. 1, against Susquehannock at the York Ice Arena. The Bears set the tone right away, scoring 11 seconds into the game. It was beautifully set up between Nick Miller, Caden Nagel and Tyler Lawer, with the latter being the one to fire the puck through.
Just under five minutes later, Colton Grove delivered a pass to Austin DiPofi, whose shot was blocked by Warriors goalie Brady Frey. CJ Samo was right there for the rebound, however, giving Elizabethtown a 2-0 lead early.
Susquehannock didn’t go away quietly, using a pair of power plays to tie the game midway through the first period. Kyle McCormick had the first goal off passes from Andrew Baibos and Cody Rodgers. The latter got the second via a Bennett Maronic assist.
The Warriors were the ones to score quickly in the second; Andrew Baibos nailed a goal six seconds in to give them a 3-2 lead. Susquehannock went quiet for the rest of the period, however, thanks to some tight defense from Elizabethtown. Grove tied the game off a Nagel assist with just over five minutes left, and DiPofi scored a breakaway pass from Carter Lutter with only six seconds on the clock for a 4-3 lead.
“The defense played really well tonight, and we had a lot of good chances at the net,” Cranston said. “CJ, Nick, Tyler and Colton all did great. Colton had struggled a bit in the last three years, but he scored a huge goal from the point on that rebound, and I could tell he was happy about that.”
Again, Susquehannock responded on a power play. Rodgers notched his second goal of the night off passes from siblings Andrew and Julianna Baibos to knot it up at 4-4. Both goalies held firm through the rest of regulation; Frey finished with 34 saves, while Kaden Rhyder had 26 for the Bears. That sent the game to overtime, which was quiet overall, resulting in a draw that finally snapped Elizabethtown’s lengthy losing streak.
“We beat them at even strength,” Cranston said. “We just have to work on the penalties. Not all of them were bad; it happens in the game of hockey. But we could’ve won if not for some of the reaching and hooking. The important thing is that the kids are playing with a lot more confidence. They believe in themselves, and we’re trying to work on that mentality of being more positive.”
The Bears returned to York Ice Arena on Monday, Nov. 4, for another game, this time vs. Dallastown. The first period was a defensive one; Elizabethtown outshot the Wildcats 10 to 5, but neither team was able to find the net.
Midway through the second, the two sides wound up scoring on the same power play. Down a man, DiPofi forced a turnover and blasted a shot in for a Bears goal. With two seconds left in the power play, however, Trae Schanberger was able to score off an assist from Joshua Reid to tie the game. He later put Dallastown up 2-1 near the end of the period.
The Wildcats deterred nearly every Elizabethtown chance in the third thanks to the efforts of goalie Alexander Sears, who finished with 31 saves. He couldn’t hold on forever though; with just under three minutes to go, Nagel got a blazing shot past him to tie the game at 2-2.
It would not be enough for the Bears. With 21 seconds remaining, Schanberger came up big, collecting a rebound off a Gavin Wells shot and sneaking the puck through to notch a hat trick and put Dallastown up 3-2, a score that held when the final buzzer sounded. Rhyder made 19 saves in the net for Elizabethtown.
With a record of 0-1-1 to begin the year, the Bears were scheduled to return to York Ice Arena for a third straight game on Wednesday, Nov. 6, against Central York.