Hard work pays off. Just ask the Lafayette Lancers.
The Lancers defeated the top-seeded Duchesne Pioneers 4-2 to win the Wickenheiser Cup. The Midstates Club Hockey Association postseason tournament title game was played at Enterprise Center.
“The kids had worked so hard to get where we are and to get the win was fantastic for them and our fans,” Lafayette coach Jim Carrico said. “(I’m) Very proud of them. They earned it.”
It is the second Wickhenheiser Cup championship for Lafayette. The Lancers also won the tournament in 2006. Lafayette finished second in 2014 when Summit won.
The Lancers ((19-7-2)) set out this season to make it happen.
“To set a goal at the beginning of the season and being able to reach and accomplish the goal is fantastic,” Carrico said. “Every single player bought in to what we are teaching and trying to do as a team. I am very happy to say Lafayette did not have any ‘look at me’ type of players this year. This was definitely a team accomplishment.
“We couldn’t be happier. (It’s) A great feeling.”
Lafayette had met Duchesne (19-6-3) in a preseason tournament game but did not during the regular season. The Lancers were seeded third in the Wickhenheiser Cup.
Carrico wanted his Lancers not to get too excited going into the title game.
“We wanted to play the exact same way in the championship game as we had played the entire playoff run,” Carrico said. “(Play) Each and every shift like it was your last. (Have) Constant pressure on the puck and to try and work down low once we gained position of the puck. “
The Lancers were “determined and focused,” before the game, Carrico said.
He was not surprised.
“During the entire playoff run, the boys had been focused,” Carrico said. “Practices had been crisp and up tempo.”
The Lancers took the lead by scoring the first goal. James Vermeersch put Lafayette on top seven minutes into the game.
“The puck went around the boards behind the Pioneers net,” Carrico said. “(Colin) Stewart was first on the puck along with a Pioneer defenseman. Stewart poked the puck, who was still behind and along the boards, free. (Patrick) Johnson came in and quickly sent the puck in the slot to a wide open Vermeersch, who made no mistake and scored top shelf to give us the lead.”
The goal was huge for his squad, Carrico said.
“Getting the lead in the any game is fantastic,” Carrico said. “It allows you to breathe a little. But we knew one goal wasn’t going to be enough.
“I thought the team remained focused and continued to work. We were hungry for more goals.”
Lafayette made it 2-0. Sophomore Sam Rubenstein scored with 1:32 left in second period.
“The puck had bounced around in the slot with lots of traffic in front of their goalie (Jack) Boschert,” Carrico said. “The puck came out to defensemen Cameron Coats, who took a nice low shot that Sam was able to redirect past Boschert. I didn’t think he had much of a chance on the redirect.”
That two-goal cushion going it the period was important, Carrico said.
“Going up 2-0 was huge. You could feel the energy on the bench increase,” Carrico said. “Lots of talk and communication going on. We did not want to lose that momentum.
Duchesne came back. Senior Vincent Conti scored 3:27 into the third period. It was Conti’s 52nd goal of the season.
“We knew we had to keep working hard. We knew Conti could score at any time,” Carrico said. “Even though we were up 2-0 then 2-1, we knew we had not accomplished anything and the game wasn’t over.”
Junior Davis “Big” Rigg scored for Lafayette to give the Lancers a two-goal advantage again.
“The puck was tip up in the neutral zone to Trevor Neuse on the left wing boards. Trevor and Davis had a 2 on 1,” Carrico said. “Trevor made a move and nice pass threw the defender to Davis, who scored low blocker side to make it 3-1.”
Duchesne kept fighting. The Pioneers scored with 79 seconds left to play. Derek Cagle scored for the Pioneers.
“Their second goal was a tip redirection off of our defensemen Chase Morgan,” Carrico said. “Chase tried to stop the shot but deflected off of him in the net. I called a timeout after the goal to make sure we were calm and focused in the final 1:19. I thought we were still OK and focused to play out the game.”
The Lancers closed it out. Freshman Patrick Johnson scored an empty netter with 13 seconds showing to clinch the game for Lafayette.
Seeing his freshman step up in a key moment did not surprise Carrico.
“Patrick is such a great kid and great hockey player,” Carrico said. “He works so hard each and every shift. When that puck bounced out to center and into the Duchesne end there was no stopping Patrick winning that race to the puck first.
“When he scored with 13 seconds left we knew we had it then.”
Johnson, who also had an assist, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
“Johnson was absolutely deserving of the MVP,” Carrico said. “He is a fantastic kid and hockey player who never quits and goes in the dirty areas to get the puck. He takes important faceoffs, kills penalties and he doesn’t take dumb penalties. You name it he does it.”
Carrico believed in his Lancers. He thought this team was more than capable of winning a championship.
“This team had all of the tools from Day 1,” Carrico said. ” We won in 2006 and now in 2019. Hopefully, we can continue to improve the program and bring hockey back at Lafayette.”
The Lancers will lose six seniors in Chase Morgan, Trevor Neuse, Jacob Rosomoff, Grant Robinson, Colin Stewart and Tyler Wotjow to graduation.
“Their senior leadership will be missed,” Carrico said. “From on the ice to the locker room, they will be hard to replace.”
The cupboard will not be bare, Carrico said. The program will return 15 starters and players for next season.
“The future looks great at Lafayette,” Carrico said. “This championship win can only help the program.
“I am very proud of this team and accomplishment. They came together as a 20-man unit and the proof shows. They were all in together. The good, the bad or the ugly. They were a team. ”