This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website and was featured on the West Chester Area School District’s site.
STATE COLLEGE — Once West Chester Rustin head coach Nick Russo found out that his team would face Quaker Valley in the Pennsylvania High School Hockey “A’ Championship, he started to reminisce on the last meeting between the two teams met in a title game and the sour taste it left.
Russo used a reference to Muhammad Ali’s story on how his bike was stolen as a kid and was never found again, so every time he entered the ring, he told himself his opponent was the culprit.
“(Quaker Valley) stole our bike two years ago,” Russo said the night before the title contest. “We’re going to get it back.”
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Rustin not only got the metaphorical bike back, but will bring some shiny hardware back from the Pegula Ice Arena on the campus of Penn State as four first-period goals staked them to a lead and the Golden Knights went on to post a 5-2 victory Saturday for their second state championship.
Rustin won it in 2009 and will keep the trophy in the confines of West Chester. W.C. East captured the championship in 2013.
“You work so hard for something and only one team can end the season as winners out of all the teams that play,” Russo said. “To achieve that is an incredible feeling — it’s like a complete fulfillment.”
Rustin and Quaker Valley met before in the state championship game in 2012 with the western team coming out on top amidst controversy.
“There was some question on the eligibility of their goaltender who shut us down offensively,” Russo said. “He lived in Ohio, went to Quaker Valley and then moved back to Ohio. I’m sure they followed all the rules, so they thought, but it didn’t come out that way when (the news) came out.”
Quaker Valley was fined for the incident, but was able to keep the title. That game left an incomplete feeling for Rustin and it’s where the use of the bicycle story originated from for Russo.
“I knew the feeling of losing and I didn’t want to feel that again,” said junior defenseman Michael Grande. “I just put everything out there on the line.”
From the moment the players stepped off the bus Saturday morning, there was an air of quiet confidence as they quietly unloaded the bus and made their way to the locker room.
“We had some good vibes and good feelings throughout the locker room,” Grande said. “We all knew what we had to do to get it done.”
Any nerves quickly went away as they scored on their first two shots against Quakers goalie Parker Sherry.
The first goal came courtesy of a 2-on-1 between senior J.R. Barone and sophomore Brett Christie. Barone threaded a perfect feed for Christie to finish just 42 seconds in. Grande followed up 59 seconds later with a goal of his own following a gorgeous move to get past his defender.
“To come out firing like that, teams can’t hold us back,” Grande said. “Anything that gets us going helps us throughout the game and keeps the intensity up. We just worked hard and got shots off and they just went into the net.”
Quaker Valley answered back two minutes later on a rebound from senior forward James Perkins, but Rustin wasn’t finished.
Barone added two more, the first coming on a bouncing slap shot on the power play. The second came off a scramble in front of the goal with 9.8 seconds left in the first for a 4-1 advantage.
“Our goal was to start off strong right from the beginning,” said senior forward Armen Asdourian. “It gave us some confidence. We knew it was going to be a tough one. I think it put them in the slumps a little bit and just set the tone.”
Quaker Valley pushed back in the second period and netted one from senior Cameron Peterkin to cut the deficit to two and have some momentum going into the third.
But the Golden Knights kept the Quakers off the scoreboard, and with time winding down, Quaker Valley prepared to pull Sherry.
The last remaining player from the original Rustin team, which began as a middle school squad, sealed the championship. Shawn Polidore finished out his Rustin career by beating Sherry on a slap shot from the point with 3:02 left and had Russo emotional after the game.
“For him to score that last goal, it was just poetic justice,” Russo said as he became choked up. “What a fitting ending to a fairytale.”
Then it was finally time for Rustin to celebrate.
“I looked at (Barone) when there was about 20 seconds left on the clock,” Asdourian said. “I was just like, ‘ We did it.’ It was as simple as that.”
Barone, however, can’t recall too much of it.
“I’m pretty sure I blacked out,” he said. “I don’t remember much, just tackling the goalie (Jason Grande) and my best friends.”
But one thing is for sure, this is a moment the whole team will remember for the rest of their lives.
“It’s the greatest day of my life — I know that for a fact,” Barone said. “Everybody on the team hangs out together. For most of us, these are our only friends and they’re all brothers to me.”