For the six senior members of the Bishop Canevin High School hockey team, there was a palpable sense of urgency as the Crusaders prepared for Monday night's PIHL Class AA championship game against Erie Cathedral Prep at Consol Energy Center.
"We needed to win," said Crusaders' senior goalie Nikita Meskin just a few minutes after he backstopped his team to a 1-0 victory against the Ramblers. "We've been wanting this for four years. We got [the Penguins Cup] in our freshman year, and that was the best feeling you could ever experience as a [district high school] hockey player. We did everything in our power to do it again."
The victory puts the Crusaders (23-2) in the Class AA state championship game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Penn State's Pegula Ice Arena. There, the Crusaders will meet the winner of the Flyers Cup championship game that was played Tuesday between Central Bucks South and Souderton.
Erie Cathedral Prep finished the season at 18-5-2.
While Meskin was doing his part with 22 saves, two underclass members of the squad teamed up to provide the game's only score just 3 minutes, 45 seconds into the first period.
That's when junior forward Blaine Adams dug the puck out of the corner and fed it to sophomore forward Thomas Krivak just above the right faceoff circle. His blistering shot hit a Prep defender's stick and the puck eluded Ramblers goalie Grant Kennedy and sailed into the net.
"On the bench in the shift before, Blaine was telling me to look high in the slot," Krivak said. "[He said] they keep leaving that open, and I remember Blaine getting the puck in the corner. I immediately went straight to the slot, and no one was there, and I just wanted to put it on net. [The Prep defender]got a stick on it, but it flipped up over the goalie and was a lucky bounce."
Canevin coach Kevin Zielmanski thought that such an early goal would spark a torrent of Crusaders tallies.
"It wasn't a very typical play for us," he said of the game's only goal. "But there was good execution on the forecheck and the pass for us.
"Sometimes, you get good results from other things besides a shot."
Krivak was effusive in his praise of Meskin.
"Words can't describe how he played," he said. "[He made] at least four saves on his back, sprawling to keep the puck out of the net. It was an amazing game for him."
Krivak, Adams and 12 other underclass members have not experienced a Penguins Cup title or a state championship such as their senior teammates. That just made it all important for the younger players to help their older teammates get a return trip to the state championship game.
"Our seniors have been there, so they know what it feels like," Krivak said. "We're hyped, ready to go and we can't wait to play."
Meskin said it would take him a while to comprehend the Penguins Cup victory and focus on the state championship game.
"It's still fresh," he said. "I still can't accept the fact that we just won the Penguins Cup. But this is the final day we're celebrating."
For the rest of the week it's all business for the Crusaders as they await their trip to State College Saturday.