Newark, Del. — Three days after a 4-3 overtime loss to Sun Valley, the St. Mark’s Spartans (7-4-2) overcame a 3-1 deficit to edge the Vanguards (4-9-0), 4-3, in the second half of a home-and-home series on Monday (Jan. 21) at the Patriot Ice Center. The win lifted St. Mark’s to 6-1-2 in ICSHL Liberty South Division play and secured them a second playoff berth since joining the league just last season.
With Spartans leading scorer Graham Kline out due to a lower-body injury, the Vanguards found an opportunity to pounce early, establish an attacking-zone presence, and outshoot St. Mark’s 11-6 in the first period. Ian Finley put Sun Valley on the board 2:21 in with a wraparound backhand goal in the right corner of the St. Mark’s cage, and Lucas Summers earned his sixth goal of the season with a bar-down wrist shot from directly in front of Spartans netminder Billy Pierce at 6:07. A holding minor assessed to Summers gave St. Mark’s a prime opportunity to halve the Vanguards’ lead with just over six minutes left in the first period, and Kelly Stroik’s net-front redirect of a Lance Ralsten shot from the left point cut the Vanguards’ lead to 2-1.
After Patrick Brees fired a 15-foot wrist shot past Pierce from a Joseph Bonacquisti back-door pass 3:23 into the second period, the Spartans rallied to post three unanswered goals and avenge their earlier defeat. At the 5:10 mark, senior defenceman Joey Centrone controlled the puck while negotiating heavy traffic in the Vanguards’ zone, circled behind the net, and generated a shot lane up the left side 15 feet out to bring St. Mark’s back within one. Ralsten’s seventh goal of the year — a punch-in amid a net-front scrum — tied the game for the Spartans midway into the third period, and while a hooking penalty committed by Sun Valley defenceman Gavin McGinnis yielded another power play for the Sparatns with 6:50 left, expletives emanating from the Vanguards’ bench in objection to the call turned it into a two-man advantage.
It took St. Mark’s all of 37 seconds into the 5-on-3 situation to take the lead, as freshman Nick Lawson tapped the puck past Vanguards goalie Ryan Duffield off a Will Ralsten rebound. Now up 4-3 with 6:13 remaining, the Spartans preserved their advantage through strong defence. They killed off a James Morrison tripping minor and parried a 6-on-5 attack from the Vangaurds which lasted the entire final minute of the game.
Pierce saved 19 of 22 shots to improve to 7-4-1 on the season, while Duffield dropped to 4-8-0 with a 13-save performance on 17 shots.
The Spartans square off against Boyertown on Friday (Jan. 25) at Ice Line. Remaining divisional games include Marple-Newtown (Mon., Jan. 28), Interboro (Fri., Feb. 8) and Appoquinimink (Fri. Feb. 22).