BY ALEX GRUBERMAN WEEKLY REPORTER
With a sweep of Civic Memorial and Columbia, the Panthers found themselves in the championship series. Following their wins over Collinsville and Edwardsville, Freeburg/Waterloo were the team to beat for the Panthers to take home the championship trophy.
Game one of the MVCHA championship took place Thursday night at East Alton. Both teams were eager for the puck to drop. O’Fallon put the pressure on Freeburg/Waterloo, but their goalie was a brick wall in net. As the period was winding down to a finish, Freeburg/Waterloo got a loose puck and put one behind Kristin Smith to take an early 1-0 lead.
The Panthers took the ice for the second period and just like the first period kept attacking Freeburg/Waterloo’s net. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the puck never did find the back of the net. Freeburg/Waterloo scored another goal and increased their lead to 2-0. As the second period came to end, the Panthers found themselves in quite a predicament.
The puck dropped to begin the third and early in the third period Freeburg/Waterloo scored again, making it a 3-0 lead. The Panthers never gave up as they continued to pepper the Bulldogs goalie, but he brought his A-game as he saved every shot. In the remaining minutes of the game, the Bulldogs scored again and took game one by the final score of 4-0.
Game two was a must win for the Panthers. If they fell to Freeburg/Waterloo, their season would be over.
In the first period, the Bulldogs came out shooting and after some controversial calls by the referees, the Bulldogs put one in the back of the net. The Bulldogs would add another goal in the first period to take a 2-0 lead. The Panthers would battle back towards the end of the period and get a goal thanks to Hayden Ourada. His goal was assisted by Ryan Boeck and Graham Sudduth and cut the lead down to one.
The Panthers would tie the game in the second period thanks to another goal by Boeck.
The Panthers headed into the third period with their season hanging by a string. They came out playing their hearts out. The defense stepped up shutting the Bulldogs down, but the Bulldogs defense stopped the Panthers from scoring too. With a tied game after three periods, the Panthers would head to a shootout. Each fan held their breath as each player took their turn. Kristen Smith came up big and her teammates came up strong to get the victory. The Panthers tied the series 1-1 and forced a winner-take-all game Tuesday night.
Game 3. Winner takes all. Who would be the champions, O’Fallon or Freeburg/Waterloo? The Panthers would strike first with a goal by Brandon Manthe assisted by Carson Bair. That lead wouldn’t last long as the Bulldogs answered right back to tie the game up at one. Sudduth assisted by Jack Wallace would give the Panthers a 2-1 lead after one period.
A few minutes into the second period, Freeburg/Waterloo would tie the game up once again. O’Fallon would commit a penalty and the Bulldogs would capitalize scoring a power play goal and taking a 3-2 lead. It would come down to the third period once again. The Panthers would tie the game up at three thanks to a goal by Sudduth, who was assisted by Ourada and Zack Winkler. The Panthers would take the lead due to Sudduth’s hat trick. The assist would go to Boeck and Winkler.
However, the Bulldogs weren’t giving up as they once again found a way to tie the game. With 4:17 left in the game, the scoreboard read 4-4. Would we be heading to another shootout? Not so fast, because Jack Wallace would score the go-ahead goal thanks to an assist by Ethan Ourada and Sudduth to make it 5-4 with 2:49 left to play. As time ran out, that would be the final score as the O’Fallon Panthers Hockey Club would capture the MVCHA championship.