The Long Beach Marines captured their first Suffolk County High School Hockey League championship in their inaugural season in the league Tuesday night.
Long Beach defeated the Connetquot/Sayville T-Birds, 4-2, in front of a standing room only crowd at The Rinx in Hauppauge. Led by goaltender Harris Pittinsky, who was awarded most valuable player, Long Beach won the series 2-0.
"We came out on top and I made some big saves for my team and my defense let me see the puck,” said Pittinsky, who allowed just seven goals in all four playoff games, five of which came against the T-Birds. “It was a good series overall; they played hard.”
Both teams came out aggressive, looking to gain the early edge. Connetquot nearly did just minutes into the game when Nick Russo broke in alone, but Pittinsky denied him.
Connetquot goaltender Chris Watts matched Pittinsky moments later, when he flashed leather on a shot by James Diamond from the circle.
Long Beach broke the scoreless tie at 6:34 on a goal by Jake Shapiro. His wrist shot from the faceoff circle beat Watts. James Forkin and Jake Brown were credited with assists.
Marines head coach Joe Brand thought it was important to get off to a good start following a poor outing early in game one, in which they fell behind 3-1.
"We had what we wouldn't consider a good game last night," said Brand outside a jubilant Marines’ locker room. "We got it out of our system early. [Last night] created a mutual respect that we knew that we couldn't play another game like that and expect to beat [Connetquot]. We were able to put enough space between us and them that they weren't able to catch up.”
Early in the second period, the T-Birds found themselves down a man. The Marines did not waste the opportunity. On a two-on-one down low in the slot, Nolan Pues fed Diamond, who buried the pass in the net to give Long Beach a 2-0 lead at 3:23.
Long Beach controlled the play throughout the remainder of the period. They added to their lead on a goal by Forkin with 7:25 remaining in the period, and Shapiro’s second of the game came about three minutes later. He found a loose puck in front of the net, spun around and slid a backhand shot between Watts’ pads.
The T-Birds showed some life late in the period, led by a strong shift from captains Tyler Young and Frank DiChiara. Both worked hard along the boards to prevent the puck from leaving the Long Beach zone.
Young let a shot go from the far boards that missed, but hustled to retrieve the rebound. He backhanded a shot that Pittinsky had difficulty handling, and it trickled off the post and into the net, cutting the Long Beach lead to 4-1 with 1:07 remaining.
Desperation seemed to kick in for the T-Birds in the third period, and they controlled most of the 15 minutes. Russo had another great chance early on, but he just seemed snake-bit all night, and DiChiara had a golden opportunity with Pittinsky out of the net, but broke his stick on the shot.
Young, clearly the best player on the T-Birds' bench, scored his second of the game after he won the faceoff back to Russo, who fired a wrist shot from the point that Young got stick on, beating Pittinsky to cut Connetquot's deficit in half, 4-2, with 3:53 left in the game.
But it was too little, too late, as Long Beach held off the T-Birds in a frantic final four minutes to capture their first SCHSHL title and advance to the state tournament next week.
"The way our team is playing, I don't see any reason why we can't have continued success at the state level,” Brand said. "We're going to enjoy this tonight and the next couple of days, and next week it's right back on the ice and preparing for what we hope to be a run at the state title."
Captain Keegan Travers was presented the SCHSHL championship trophy.
"We played great," Travers said. "We worked hard the first couple of periods and then slacked a little in the third. We proved we can win a county championship."
Long Beach made the transition from the Nassau league prior to this season, and Travers said that the competition in Suffolk was greater than what they had previously faced in Nassau, and that the team quickly developed new rivalries.
How did the championship trophy feel in his hands? "It felt awesome," he said with a boyish smile.