Another hard-fought season is in the books for the Manhasset Hockey Middle School team. Whether only eight players dressed or the full team, it didn’t matter to them. Every time they put their Manhasset jersey on and stepped onto the ice, they fought with passion. Their grit and determination paid off in the end when they got a chance to play in the Nassau County High School Hockey Middle School (Blue Division) Championship game on Tuesday, March 28.
From the beginning of the season, the outlook wasn’t too bright for the team who, by league rules, barely had enough players on the roster to form a team. Numbers were often low throughout the year and several times players were asked to volunteer for one of the hardest jobs in the game, which is to play goalie. Rishabh Jajoo, one of only a handful of eighth graders on the team, proved his leadership early in the season by making the ultimate sacrifice for his team. He volunteered to strap the pads on when the team found themselves without a goalie. Kurt Dillmeier also played net for the team on a few occasions. Every player may have been asked to do their part, but these young men went above and beyond their duty, bravely stepping into a position they never played before.
After the start of the season, the team was improved by the addition of three hardworking and hard-skating players. Hunter Longobardi, Benjamin Griffith and Shant Dadourian helped bolster the roster. The three joined the team without missing a beat while playing wing with the likes of two highly skilled seventh-grade centers, Luca DiRaimo and Joey Huber, whose sick dangles all throughout the year undressed opposing defensemen and goaltenders.
In his comeback season to the sport, Theodore Jones brought a passion to the team. Working hard and striving for greatness, he often set the tone for the team both at practice and in games. Offensive contributions often came from the two Roszko twins, Jack and Tyler, whose skills are only matched by the platinum flow hanging out the bottom of their helmets.
The team would never have gotten to the championship without the hard work in the defensive zone all season. Leading the team onto the ice were goaltenders Thomas Toscano and William Scharfenberger. Amazing save after amazing save, the two young goalies feared no one in the league. That lack of fear might have had something to do with the shutdown defensemen in front of them. Dillmeier and Ethan Davidman stood up to the challenge of facing the opponents top scorers game in and game out. The strong defensive pairing of Jack George and Nick DiTore also stood in the enemy’s way.
Backing away from no one, these two were thorns in the sides of many opposing players, letting no one get through to their goaltenders.
The semifinal game was played on March 26 at Iceworks in Syosset. Manhasset had to play the top-seeded team, Sewanhaka. Although they were the top-seeded team, Manhasset had beaten them twice before during the regular season.
The game was so close that it could not be settled in regulation and was forced to go into overtime. However, it didn’t take long for Manhasset to seize their semi-final game victory. Only 12 seconds into overtime, forward Luke Sylvia found a way to get the puck past the goaltender and secure the teams spot in the championship game.
Manhasset didn’t have long to ride the high of a great overtime victory. Only two days after they would face Bethpage Middle School in the championship game. Bethpage, a team Manhasset faced three times in the regular season with mixed results, was ready to give the club a run for their money.
This too was a game that could have gone very differently if the Manhasset players let their emotions take over. The Bethpage team matched up very well against the underdog Manhasset team. Similar to the semi-final game, Bethpage would find a way to score shortly after the first two Manhasset tallies. Manhasset scored early in the first but lost the lead shortly after. With less then two minutes remaining in the first period, Joey Huber found the back of the net with a highlight-reel dangle that made the opponents’ defense look silly.
Even though Manhasset found themselves leading at the end of the first period, the true difference in the game was goaltender Toscano, the back-to-back CookiePuss Award winner, which is an award given to Manhasset’s game MVP. Watching Bethpage desperately try to get the puck past him was like watching someone try to shoot a puck through a cement wall. He set the tone for the rest of the team giving them the confidence to do what they have done all year, attack and pressure the kids on the other team.
Manhasset found themselves tied with Bethpage 2-2 shortly after the start of the second period. It wasn’t until midway through the second period when things started to truly click for Manhasset. The chemistry between DiRaimo and Luke Sylvia was palpable. It began with a beautiful tic-tac-toe pass and ended with Sylvia deking past the Bethpage defense and scoring top shelf, where grandma hides the Thin Mints.
A short-handed goal by defenseman Dillmeier early in the third would take much of the gusto out of the Bethpage team. After almost scoring in the first period and hitting the post early in the third, forward Dadourian would tally yet another goal for Manhasset, giving them a 5-2 lead late in the third.
Desperation kicked in for Bethpage as they would pull their goalie late in the third to give themselves an extra attacker. But Jajoo would not only put an end to any possible comeback but also capped off his three-year career with the Manhasset MS team by scoring an empty net goal. Although Manhasset was up 6-2, they were not content with letting up. As the seconds ticked down DiRaimo managed to put one more goal in. It was the final nail in the coffin that gave the Manhasset Ice Hockey Club their first Middle School Championship title. Along with the players hard work comes the dedication and commitment of coach Michael O’Gara and assistant coach William Sylvia.
After the game was over and both sides shook hands, the Manhasset players skated around the ice, elated, holding the trophy showing everyone in attendance that they did what they set out to achieve. Parents took their pictures capturing that moment forever. The players left the locker room full of smiles and pride. They each left with their families knowing that all the hard work that they put into this season paid off, because they can always look back at this season and call themselves champions.