The O’Fallon Panthers Hockey Club has climbed the mountain and successfully planted the flag.
After an intense back-and-forth series against a great Freeburg/Waterloo team, O’Fallon captured the 2A Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association title. It was O’Fallon’s first championship since the 1998-1999 season. The Panthers bested the Bulldogs two games to one in the championship series, taking the final game 5-4.
“Most of my players were either just born or not even born yet when that happened,” said O’Fallon coach Patrick Roy. “I am unbelievably proud of the kids and the work they put in this season. I also want to thank the students and families and friends that came out to watch us. The atmosphere in the crowd had the players amped and the players gave back with an amazing performance.”
O’Fallon swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs, first dispatching Bethalto, then Columbia. In both best-of-three series, O’Fallon never lost.
That would change, however, in game one against Freeburg/Waterloo. The Panthers dropped the series opener 4-0 to the Bulldogs.
“We had some injuries and some missing players that night, but the team played even with (Freeburg/Waterloo) through almost two full periods,” Roy said.
In game 2, the Panthers fielded a full roster again — and the players were pumped. Maybe a little too much.
“We took a five-minute major early in the first period that Freeburg/Waterloo capitalized on and got two quick goals,” Roy said.
But O’Fallon would close the gap at the end of the first on goal by Hayden Ourada, assisted by Graham Sudduth and Ryan Boeck, making the score 2-1.
Four minutes into the second period, Ryan Boeck scored off an assist from Hayden Ourada to tie the game at 2-2. The third period was scoreless but was back and forth with chances. Regulation ended tied.
“We went to a three-man shootout, and we scored on two chances, and Freeburg/Waterloo only got one,” Roy said.
For the game, O’Fallon outshot Freeburg/Waterloo 34-21.
“Their goalie, Peyton Hamilton, really played great for them and kept them in the game,” Roy said.
The series went to the third and decisive game to decide the champion.
O’Fallon came out again supercharged and never let up, outshooting the Bulldogs 29-15 along the way.
Travis Manthe started the scoring in the first period off an assist from Carson Bair. But Freeburg/Waterloo tied it after a fluky turnover behind O’Fallon’s net. Seconds later, Graham Sudduth’s goal put the Panthers back in the lead at 2-1.
But Freeburg/Waterloo would tie the score again when a shot hit O’Fallon goalie Kristin Smith and flipped over her head, slowly rolling in the net. The first period ended 2-2.
Freeburg/Waterloo got its only lead in the second on a power-play goal. But at the end of the second period, Graham Sudduth, off assists from Hayden Ourada and Zach Winkler, tied it back up. During the same shift, Graham Sudduth completed the hat trick and gave O’Fallon a 4-3 lead going into the third period.
But the Bulldogs again bounced back to tie the score.
The game-winning goal came with 3:10 left in the game when O’Fallon’s Ethan Ourada and Graham Sudduth set up Jack Wallace for a tip-in goal.
But the game would prove intense right until the final horn, as O’Fallon had to kill off a penalty with about a minute remaining in the game.
“The penalty killers did a fantastic job limiting Freeburg/Waterloo’s chances,” Roy said.
When the buzzer finally sounded, a massive celebration erupted with the players all piling on top of Smith, who made 11 saves on the night, at the net.
This is O’Fallon’s second 2A Varsity title ever and the first since the 1998-1999 season.