The setting was all too familiar to head coach Joe Brand and the Long Beach Marines.
They were down late in the first period in the county finals, as they were last year, eventually falling in the Nassau County championship. Monday night, however, they managed to recover.
The Marines netted four goals in just over four minutes to start the second period, eventually turning an early 3-1 hole into a 7-3 victory over Connetquot/Sayville in game one of the Suffolk County High School Hockey League finals before a raucous crowd at The Rinx in Hauppauge.
“The opposing team last year came out and they were a little bit more fired up than we were,” Brand recalled. “They jumped us early and we struggled to regain a lead. Tonight we got lucky and we did.”
Senior Jimmy Diamond, the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, led the Marines with two goals and an assist, including a brilliant end-to-end rush that culminated in the game-winning goal in the second period.
Diamond was aware of the open ice, and looked to make a play to give his team the lead.
“I just felt good about it,” he said. “I saw that we were down, we knew we had to come back, we knew we were better than this team, we knew we cycled the puck better, so we had to come back in this game.”
Diamond also set up forward Nolan Pues for one of his two goals. Pues rifled a wrist shot off the crossbar and in over Connetquot goaltender Brett Ficken's shoulder at 3:53 of the third period.
The T-Birds came out flying early and forced the Marines into a number of uncharacteristic mistakes in their own zone. Though they didn't manage many shots early on, Connetquot was very opportunistic, as they tucked three of their first four shots past Marines goaltender Harris Pittinsky.
“Connetquot came out and they were all over us,” Brand said. “They played unbelievable. They’ve got some really talented kids. We just tried to weather the storm and knew once we were going to get our break we were going to respond.”
Pittinsky rebounded nicely after his defense hung him out to dry on a number of scoring opportunities early on. Though Connetquot held a 29-21 shot advantage, they were unable to beat Pittinsky after Tyler Young’s shorthanded goal at 11:51 of the first period. The Marines netminder finished with 26 saves.
“Harris has given us that same effort all year long,” Brand said. “All we ask of him is to play well enough for us not to lose … When he had to make a few big saves he made them and kept us in it. He picked up the rest of the guys.”
Though the T-Birds got goals from Young, Tyler Rifice and captain Frank DiChiara, they got into penalty trouble near the end of the first period. The Marines power play struck twice on consecutive chances, tying the game at three. Diamond netted his first of the game to cut the deficit to one, followed 59 seconds later by Jake Brown off a pass by Aidan Salerno, and the game was knotted up.
“We just wanted to simplify things,” Brand said of his approach with a man advantage. “We were just trying to throw pucks at the goaltender.”
Ficken was under siege in the second period, as he allowed four goals on nine shots, getting little help from his defense.
After Diamond gave the Marines the lead with his second of the game, Nolan Pues capped the run by putting back his own rebound after a pass from the corner by captain Keegan Travers left him open in front.
Pues and Evan Schwartz notched insurance markers in the third period to quell any hopes of a Connetquot comeback.
Long Beach will look to wrap up the 2010-11 SCHSHL season with a victory tonight night in game two of the best-of-three series. The puck drops at 8:50 at The Rinx.