Bethel Park wins national hockey championship

Published Mar 31, 2014 at 4:08 pm (Updated Mar 31, 2014 at 4:08 pm)

The Bethel Park ice hockey team finally figured out how to get a police escort back to the high school: win a national championship as the Hawks did March 30 in Omaha.

“Pretty cool,” said BP head coach Jim (Mort) McVay of the commotion early Monday morning. “We’ve won state championships before, but never had a police escort. This is amazing.”

Astounding is what the Hawks achieved during their six-day visit to the Midwest. Bethel Park not only compiled a 5-1 record, the Hawks edged Providence Catholic from Illinois, 2-1, to capture the 2014 USA Hockey National Championship. They became the first high school hockey team from Pennsylvania to claim the title.

“To think no team from anywhere in this area has won a national title is an amazing accomplishment,” said McVay, who as a student played on a state championship club from Upper St. Clair.

“I’m glad I didn’t know how big this was until after the tournament. I was nervous anyway but I would have been more nervous. But really it’s all about the kids and what they did. They proved that hard work really does pay off. It’s been a long crazy journey.”

The Hawks’ quest for a national title commenced shortly after their disappointing defeat to rival Peters Township, 4-2, for the Penguins Cup. While the Indians went on to capture the Pennsylvania Cup, Bethel Park went back to practice. By the time the Hawks reached Nebraska, they were prepared for the competition.

“Our focus was not to look toward the future and not to worry about the past,” McVay said. “Everything was in the present.”

Bethel Park opened action with victories against Cherry Creek, Colorado, 9-2, and Medina, Ohio, 4-2, and captured the Pool A division.

The Hawks suffered their only defeat in the tournament when they dropped a 5-4 decision to J Serra from California. The game had given McVay an opportunity to showcase his deep bench while resting some of his premier players. Every team member played in the contest.

After Bethel Park blanked Sioux Falls, S.D. 3-0, the Hawks upended Des Moines, 3-1, in the semifinals. The Illinois club pooled its talents from 11 different high schools. According to McVay, the team was basically an all-star team that nine times out of 10 beats a team that comprises just one public school like Bethel Park.

Motivation and labor propelled the Hawks. Deemed “a bunch of cupcakes” by their adversaries, BP triumphed in part because of a defense spearheaded by Derek Lesnak and Nick Konyk. The seniors had anchored a unit that had allowed the fewest goals during scholastic Class AAA competition this winter.

“Derek and Nick were rocks for us on defense throughout the tournament,” said McVay. “All of our guys worked as hard as possible and they played their best game by far in the semifinals.

“We were motivated by their comments. There was a lot of inspiration there. It felt great to beat that team. Obviously,” McVay added, “when given an opportunity to play in a final, my guys gave it their all.”

The championship was almost as good as the semifinals. According to McVay, Bethel Park matched up well with Providence Catholic, a club that had beaten Peters Township, 3-1, earlier in the tournament.

“We knew it would be tough,” said McVay but not because the Hawks had lost the Penguins Cup to the Indians, 4-2, back on March 17 at the Consol Energy Center.

After a scoreless first frame, things got tough when Providence took a 1-0 lead in the second stanza. The Hawks, however, answered twice.

Christian Siak netted the equalizer. Jake Salak and Tyler Kruszewski assisted.

McVay called Siak’s tally, “a most amazing goal. One of the nicest that I have seen,” he added. “He took a beautiful shot.”

With 1:35 left in the second stanza, Salak scored the game-winning goal. Siak assisted.

Prior to the finals, Siak and Jacob Worcester led the Hawks in scoring with five goals each. Siak had registered seven assists while Worcester recorded one dish. Kruszewski followed with four goals and five assists for nine points while Spencer Bawcom finished with a goal and three assists.

William ‘Tre’ Lowe provided the Hawks a strong presence in the nets. He made 58 saves during three games for a .951 save percentage prior to the finals. He allowed only five goals against the finest talent in the country during the tournament.

“Tre played incredibly well in goal. Extremely well,” emphasized McVay. “I don’t think I’ve seen him play any better.”

And, McVay couldn’t be any more satisfied with his squad.

“It’s very exciting,” he said. “When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing. I am so proud of these guys. They worked so hard and grown so much and really that’s what it’s all about. Making better young men out of these players,” he concluded.

Members of the team, who also contributed to the national championship, included: Ryan Phelps, Andy Bello, Will Douds, Evan Oakley,Jeff Wagner, Connor Namuth, Ethan Wdowiak, Austin Ball, Jason Bauer, Louie McLinden, Gary Cerrone, Jack Wagner, Antonio Esposito, Jake Mueser, Logan Chorney, Brian Weisner, Nate Partsch and Zach Davis.

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