BUFFALO, New York — The sports world is full of time-tested old adages and clichés. There’s one that is especially appropriate for the girls of the Tier II 16U Depew Saints: “That's why they play the game.”
Heading into the 2020 USA Hockey New York District Tournament championship game, the winner appeared to be a foregone conclusion.
The Saints were facing off against a dominant opponent in the Potsdam Icestorm. Potsdam swept through round robin play, winning all three games scoring 20 goals and letting up just one. In fact, one of those wins was against Depew, 5-1.
Meanwhile, Depew struggled against Hamburg before finally winning 6-4. Potsdam beat Hamburg decisively, 7-0.
This was a Potsdam team whose similar lineup last year plowed through the tournament, claiming the district title without letting up a single goal while virtually burning out the red light behind the opposition's net.
On paper, this looked like a mismatch. But, that's why they play the game.
In the semifinal game Sunday morning, a chink in Potsdam's armor appeared. Despite jumping out to a 2-0 lead against Monroe County, Potsdam faltered in the third as Monroe tied the game. Potsdam escaped on a game-winner with 36 seconds remaining.
Depew saw an opening. First though, the Saints had to fight hard to get through their semifinal game against Norfolk/Norwood. Depew fell behind 1-0, then after taking a 2-1 lead, were tied up again. Finally, Kendal Kalinowski scored the third period game-winner and Gillian Evans added the insurance tally for a 4-2 win.
Depew is a village 11 miles east of Buffalo, consisting of only 5.1 square miles. The village extends across the boundary between the towns of Lancaster and Cheektowaga. They almost dissolved the village in 2017, but voted against doing so. Their girls’ hockey team wasn't about to dissolve either, no matter how formidable the opponent.
They learned from their first encounter against Potsdam.
“We were pitching a lot in the offensive zone in the first game against Potsdam, and it didn't work too well,” Depew coach Dan Cole said.
So, after Depew scored a first period goal by Vanessa Willock, Depew played smart, solid hockey. They kept their defensemen up high, allowing them to minimize the speed of the Potsdam counterattack and clog up the center zone.
Deep in their own zone, they threw everyone in front of the net if necessary to clear bodies and rebounds away, frustrating the Icestorm. On top of that, Depew skated hard and hustled for every 50/50 puck, never tiring as the marathon game wore on.
Ultimately, it came down to another hockey truism — you win with your goalie. For Depew, Elizabeth Timby was it. Literally.
“She's our only goalie,” Cole said. “She's it. There's nothing behind her. We did pick up an emergency goalie for the tournament, but they can only play if the original goalie is hurt.”
Needless to say, Timby played every minute for Depew, registering a .910 save percentage and one shutout. In the final, she had to come up with save after save as Potsdam continuously applied pressure to knot the score.
When Potsdam finally did so, it hardly phased Timby. She simply returned to stymieing the Icestorm rushes, no matter how close Potsdam came at times. Timby then had to hold off Potsdam through an entire overtime period, as both teams had numerous Grade A chances.
Next came a shootout, and after Timby let in two of the first three shots, she slammed the door shut the rest of the way until her team scored in the seventh round.
“She's been a rock all year. She's solid,” Cole said.
The winning shootout score was by the captain, Maeve Hourihan, on a nice move culminating in a high backhand shot.
Cole said, “One of our most talented players. She's all around a great player. Can't say enough about her.”
Hourihan led the team with six goals and eight points. The most important tally doesn't even count toward her tournament stats, not that she minds.
So, what was the secret sauce which allowed Depew to overcome the odds and defeat Potsdam?
“Effort,” Cole said. “That's all it was. We have great kids. They can all play hockey. They came to play today, and it showed.
“As far as I know, no Depew team has ever been crowned District champions.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.