Priory finishes second in Midstates Club Hockey Association’s Founders Cup
By: Warren Mayes
Priory got down and rallied to tie Mehlville but fell short in the championship game of the Founders Cup.
Mehlville earned a 3-2 victory over the Rebels in the Midstates Club Hockey Association postseason tourney.
“Obviously, the boys were very disappointed,” Priory coach John Rourke said. “They had worked hard to make it to the championship game and came up just short. The loss will hurt for a while, but the boys can hopefully take solace in the playoff run that they had — the really exciting victories and moments they experienced and the buzz that they generated at school.
“During two weeks in February, these players experienced some magic that they will hopefully keep with them for a lifetime. During their playoff run, the team experienced redemption from a tough regular season. Moreover, almost to a man, our players’ games improved during the playoffs. That —- and the knowledge and ability to win games — is something that should carry over into next year and beyond.”
The Rebels went into the game winning five of its six playoff games. The lone loss came to top-seeded Parkway West but Priory won the series to advance to the semifinals. The Rebels dispatched St. Mary’s to reach the title game at Queeny Park.
“The team was upbeat going into the game. As it turned out, the team was a bit nervous, as was clear from our first period play, where we suffered from the ‘yips’ a bit,” Rourke said. “This was evident early in the game when we were having trouble with our passes and decision-making when we had the puck.”
Before the game, Rourke stressed to the Rebels to ignore the surroundings and what the game meant and just play.
“We just talked about playing their game, playing good defense and about not being intimidated or distracted by the atmosphere and the circumstances of it being a championship game, the crowd and the other distractions,” Rourke said. “We talked about other championship games the coaches had been involved in and some of the lessons we had learned in those games -— things we wanted them to emulate and things we wanted them to avoid.
“We tried to get the players up for the game, but not so hyped up that they would play outside their roles and systems.”
Mehlville jumped out a 2-0 lead in the first period. The Panthers’ first score came on a short-handed goal.
“Our power play unit simply got outplayed,” Rourke said. “That was really disappointing.”
Mehlville’s second goal came on a power play on shot from the top of the zone.
“After those goals, our team started to play better,” Rourke said.
Indeed. The Rebels received two goals from Ben Kraus in the second period to tie the game.
However, the Panthers scored early in the third period. Mehlville got the game-winning goal at the 11:38 mark of the final period. It came on a power play.
“After Mehlville scored its third goal, the boys were a bit crestfallen as we had been playing well in the second period and at the beginning of the third period,” Rourke said. “We picked up our game a bit after the goal, but we never really regained the tempo that we had going before that last goal.”
Priory did not fold. The Rebels kept fighting and trying to put the puck in the net.
“We had a few good chances to tie at the end and we certainly had opportunities during a stretch when we had four minutes of power play hockey,” Rourke said. “But frankly, we had trouble generating offense all game. I take nothing away from Mehlville. They played a great game and deserved to win.
“But we certainly did not play at the same level as we had in some of our previous playoff games. We had trouble executing passes, made too many mental mistakes, took too many penalties and we did not get enough quality shots on goal.”
The Rebels will lose senior captain Jack Rourke. However, the cupboard will not be bare for Priory.
“We should have all or nearly all of our other players returning, including eight juniors,” Rourke said. “The future does look bright for Priory hockey. We will be much more of a seasoned and veteran team next year and hopefully we will not be as plagued with injuries as we were this year.
“We should be picking up some young talent as well. Of course, the success of the team will also depend largely on how hard and smart the boys work in the offseason and on our ability to correct some fundamental weaknesses in our individual and team play.”
However, for now, Rourke wants the athletes to step back after a long, hard season.
“It is important for the boys to take some time off from hockey, concentrate on their academics and families, and try to rejuvenate themselves mentally and physically,” Rourke said. “Hockey will be back soon enough and our players know that they have some unfinished business to take care of next year.”