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High School Ice Hockey:
Cherokee wins High School Ice Hockey Championship

Friday, March 8, 2002

By Mike Costantino
SJSports Staff Writer

Bill Connolly, Anthony Diorio and Sean Zahacewski scored two goals each as Cherokee defeated Washington Township 8-5 in the third and deciding game of the SJHSIHL Tier 1 Varsity Championship series. Cherokee started slowly falling behind by two goals in the first period, but as true champions usually do they finished strong scoring four goals in the third period. Township broke out on top first as Nick Martorano scored the first of his two goals, converting a pass after some hard work in the corner by Eric Marano. Connolly, who played his best game of the series, tied the score at 1-1 scoring on a back-hander from his knees with just over two minutes remaining in the opening period. Instead of closing out the period thinking defense first, three goals were scored in the final minute.

After Marano gave Township a 2-1 lead with just over a minute left in the period, Martorano deflected a shot by Marano to make it 3-1 with eighteen seconds left. But Cherokee broke in on a 2-on-1 in the waning seconds and Diorio, on a nice feed from Zahacewski, banged the puck into the net to cut the Township lead to 3-2 after one period. The pivotal part of the game came five minutes into the second period, Connolly made a great pass from the corner to Mike DePerro in front and his quick shot tied the game at 3-3. Township goalie Dan Straga injured his leg on the play and had to be helped off the ice and Adam Seczech replaced him in goal. After Mike Duczkowski gave Township a 4-3 lead, thanks to a great breakout pass from Tom Davies, Cherokee needed four minutes before it registered its first shot on Seczech, but Brandon McCarty (not McCarthy) made it count as his blast from the top of the left circle tied the score at 4-4 heading into the final period.

The third period belonged to Cherokee, and in particular Zahacewski, as he scored two goals ninety seconds apart, first on the power play on a feed from Mike Scian and then on a slap shot from the top of the slot and Cherokee led 6-4 with eleven minutes left in the third. After killing off two consecutive penalties, Pat Henderson, arguably the MVP of the playoffs dug the puck out in the corner and hit Connolly in front and his quick shot sealed the deal at 7-4 with five minutes left. Chris Keyser scored Townships final goal and Diorio added an empty netter and Cherokee celebrated their first title with an 8-5 win. Congratulations to Coach Ketchell, his players and staff on winning their first championship.

Notes: Cherokee broke the string of six consecutive years where the team that won game 1, went on to lose the championship. During the playoffs the league experimented with a third official in the scorekeepers area and in my opinion it was very successful. There were many occasions where the off-ice official would explain the penalty to the offender, and in last nights case, at the end of the game when it looked like something was brewing right after the buzzer, the off-ice official instinctively went to center ice and kept Township players from joining the fracas. With the rule changes the league instituted to cut-back on violence along with the extra official, this should help decrease the number of suspensions next year.

Photos by Joanne Costantino

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