NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Loomis-Chaffee achieved quite a few “firsts” this postseason. The Pelicans qualified for their first tournament appearance in over 20 years and made it to their first tournament final in program history. On Sunday afternoon, they recorded another first when they beat St. Paul’s, 3-2, to capture their first tournament championship in program history.
Junior forward Alex Esposito played the hero, as he scored a go-ahead goal in the second period and potted the game-winner in the third period.
“Over the course of [Esposito’s] career, he’s gotten a lot of big goals for us,” said Loomis coach John Zavisza. “He got the game-winner for us [in the semifinals] too. You want your top guys to have games like that in the big show. He came up big when it really mattered.”
Although Loomis-Chaffee came out with the win, it was St. Paul’s who came out hot in the first period. St. Paul’s outskated Loomis and had the better chances on net. They finally saw their hard work pay off on the scoreboard when, with 14 seconds left in the period, junior forward Austin Ricci slipped a shot between goaltender Nick DeSimone and the post to put St. Paul’s up, 1-0.
“They wanted it more than us that period,” Zavisza said. “[I said], ‘I know that deep down you guys want it more.’ We just went over the key points in terms of what we needed to do better and we came out with a great second period.”
Indeed the second period was key for Loomis, who potted two goals while managing to keep St. Paul’s off the scoreboard. Loomis’s first goal came in quirky fashion when senior defenseman Matt O’Donnell threw a backhander on net from the goal line that drifted past St. Paul’s goaltender Nathan Colannino. Esposito put Loomis up, 2-1, when he converted from the lower left circle on a 3-on-1 with 4:31 left in the frame.
Loomis came out somewhat flat in the beginning of the third period, and they paid for their brief lapse in focus when St. Paul’s senior captain Cam McCusker put away his own rebound to tie the game at 2-2 two minutes into the period.
But for the second consecutive game, Esposito notched the game-winner as he collected a St. Paul’s turnover in its own zone and charged in alone on the goalie.
“The defenseman was coming out with it, made a little head fake,” Esposito said. “I went down and it hit me in the hands. Then it was me and the goalie. I waited him out a little bit and then went short-side.”
St. Paul’s had a chance to tie the game late when, with 2:52 left in the game, Loomis senior forward Henry Tobin took a tripping penalty. But instead of pulling the goalie to give St. Paul’s a 6-on-4, St. Paul’s coach Mark Bozek chose to stick with his five-man unit.
“I’m of the mindset that your power play is set up and you have five guys on your power play,” Bozek said. “Looking back, our power play wasn’t that great today. But that was my mindset. You practice all year with five guys on your power play. To pull your goalie and get the sixth guy on the power play when all you really need is a goal and then you’re going to give them an open net to shoot at, people might second-guess me, but that’s my reasoning.”
And while St. Paul’s will hope Bozek’s decision won’t haunt them in the next few weeks and months, Loomis is looking to savor their first taste of a championship for a long time to come.
“[Winning the tournament] will be a highlight in their lives for sure,” said Zavisza. “It was certainly a highlight in my young coaching year. Hopefully it makes them want more.”