It’s been a long time coming.
The Elizabethtown Area High School ice hockey club has been patiently waiting for a chance to earn a victory. Coming into the 2019-20 season, the Bears went winless in 39 straight games dating back to 2017, losing 37 contests in a row before tying Susquehannock 4-4 to start the year. A narrow 3-2 loss in the next outing against Dallastown only extended the streak.
But finally, after 1,011 days, the nightmare is over. Battling Central York at York Ice Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 6, Elizabethtown surged ahead late to win 7-5. It was the Bears’ first victory since January 30, 2017, where they coincidentally beat Manheim Central by the same score in the second-to-last game of the 2016-17 season.
“Just getting our first win makes it ten times better,” Caden Nagel said. “The talk in the locker room was tough, but we came out on fire. We wanted that more than they did, and we weren’t gonna stop until we got the win.”
“It’s a really nice start, but it’s not like it was our main goal,” Tyler Lawer said. “It was a big step along the way. We were motivated since Central York’s a good team. We knew we had to come out and play hard. We just have to keep going now.”
“I’ve never seen a team that emotional after a game in 20 years of coaching,” head coach Scott Cranston said. “They’ve gone through a lot of hurt and pain, and people telling them that they were an easy win. That’s the third game in a row where we fought from behind. When we got back in the lead, that mentality kicked in. Everyone said ‘We’re tired of being kicked around; we’re not losing this game.’ It was just a big relief.”
The Panthers got things started with a Logan Myers goal 86 seconds into the game. The Bears answered a couple of minutes later in the form of a breakaway Austin DiPofi goal off a pass from Carter Lutter. DiPofi would notch another unassisted goal shortly thereafter to put his team up 2-1.
“It feels good,” DiPofi said. “You just got to use your speed and go wide, not cut to the middle as much and throw everything at the net.”
Logan Myers was able to score again for Central York to tie it back at 2-2 before CJ Samo blasted a perfect slap shot into the net for Elizabethtown. Myers notched a hat trick off an assist from Billy Shaver late in the first period to put the score at 3-3. That didn’t last long. Just 29 seconds into the second, Lawer intercepted a Panthers pass and score on a one-on-one attack to give the Bears a 4-3 lead.
“I didn’t really think about it too much,” Lawer said. “Usually when I do that, I mess up. Once I got the puck, I just shot it where I usually do, and it went in.”
Central York grabbed the lead back midway through the period with Logan Myers’ fourth goal of the night (this time via a Joe Raineri assist), followed by a goal from Mason Steward. For the third time in as many days, the Bears were down by a goal past the halfway point of the game.
Things went differently this time around. During a lengthy power play, Colton Grove fired a shot toward the net off a Kayla Myers pass, with Samo knocking in a rebound to tie the game. Then, during a four-on-four scenario, Nick Miller got behind Central York’s defense for the go-ahead goal, putting Elizabethtown up 6-5 heading into the third.
The Panthers pressed hard in the final period, outshooting the Bears 11 to 8; they’d eventually lead the shots on goal total 38 to 33. However, Elizabethtown’s defense stepped up when it needed to, led by tremendous play from goalie Kaden Rhyder, who finished with 33 saves.
“Kaden played really well tonight,” Cranston said. “For a freshman, I was impressed with his effort. He kept his cool even when they had five goals in the second. I think that’s a good thing for him. We moved Austin back on defense to stabilize things and he still had a couple of goals. He and CJ were really willing to carry the team when they needed to.”
“I just focused on getting the puck out of the zone,” DiPofi said. “We go more seamlessly and flawlessly. We need to clean it up on the back end a little bit, but we did well.”
Finally, with just under four minutes to go, Miller found Nagel on a fast-break power play. Drawing two defenders, Nagel quickly sent to the puck toward Liam Hanley, who got a shot past Central York goalie Justin Meluzio (26 saves) for a key insurance goal. From there, Elizabethtown was able to coast to the win.
“I didn’t see anything open for me,” Nagel said. “I honestly didn’t really look for him at first; I just saw the same color jersey as mine and passed it over. It was lucky that it went straight on his tape, and he sealed the deal for us there.”
In contrast to the Logan Myers focused attack for Central York, Elizabethtown saw five different players score goals on the night, with four more contributing assists. That’s been a huge theme for the team this season. While DiPofi’s the lone player to have scored in every game (he leads the way with 4 goals), seven players in total have goals thus far, as many as the Bears had last year.
“We’re talking about balance,” Cranston said. “We have three sets of wingers and two centers. Up until the last two minutes, we were playing everybody. We weren’t short-shifting kids. I told the locker room that it’s not just one guy; it’s a whole team effort. They all participated, which is great.”
The other thing that will help Elizabethtown down the stretch is how tight the games have been through three outings. A tie, a one-goal loss (the game-winner coming with just 21 seconds left in regulation) and a two-goal win have put the Bears above the rest of the Viola Division in the CPIHL. Aside from a handful of ties, the rest of the games in the league have mostly been one-sided affairs.
“It’ll prepare us so we know how to handle close situations against better teams,” DiPofi said. “We know how to handle it because we’ve been there before.”
“I think they’re getting comfortable playing in these close games,” Cranston said. “Last year, they didn’t have a lot of those, but after three in a row, they’re feeling more confident. I think they were actually more confident tonight than the first two games.”
With a record of 1-1-1, Elizabethtown was scheduled to have its first home game of the season at Klick Lewis Arena in Palmyra on Wednesday, Nov. 13, against Twin Valley before traveling to Lancaster Ice Rink on Friday, Nov. 15, to face Penn Manor. A week of rest should be extremely beneficial for the Bears, who can now focus on the rest of the year after getting the proverbial losing monkey off their backs. There’s nowhere to go but up from here.
“We’ll try to recover and get back for the next win,” DiPofi said. “It’s a team game. You can’t win with just one person. We’ll keep getting everyone involved.”
“You just have to keep wanting it more than everyone else does,” Nagel said. “Now that we got a win against a good team, we’re gonna get after it, whatever it takes.”
“The key is enjoying tonight and then focusing on practice,” Cranston said. “We have to move forward and keep getting better. Yes, it’s a win, but let’s not be happy with just one. Let’s get a couple more, and improve from there.”