For a frenzied final 46 seconds Friday night at Lancaster Ice Rink, with Penn Manor protecting a one-goal lead over Hempfield, the players on the ice swarmed around the puck as bodies slammed into each other with muted thuds. Their teammates, on their respective benches, tapped their sticks against the boards, and their coaches barked orders while the seconds ticked away on their Central Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League elimination game.
The clock hit zeros, and the chaos settled as Hempfield's final bid for a game-tying goal sailed over the Penn Manor net. For the second time in less than 24 hours, the Comets prevailed in a one-goal game, vanquishing Hempfield with a 1-0 victory.
"I think we played hard," said Penn Manor coach John Ricci. "We accomplished what we set out to do, and now the kids have another opportunity."
Hempfield's last attempt sails high of the Penn Manor net. Comets hang on for a 1-0 victory. They'll play Warwick Monday with a berth in the Viola Cup championship game on the line. pic.twitter.com/rMCbRxR47h— Tim Gross (@TimGrossLNP) February 23, 2019
The opportunity pits the Comets (16-6-0-0) — with players from Penn Manor, Lancaster Catholic, Lancaster Country Day and Solanco — against Warwick in a game scheduled for 9 p.m. Monday at Lancaster Ice Rink, with a spot in Friday's Viola Cup championship game on the line.
"We just keep building on each other," said Penn Manor's Jake Jesberger, who netted the game's only goal Friday with 15:20 left in the third period, "and I think we play better when we have a lead."
Jesberger cashed in on a Penn Manor power play, swiping at a loose puck after Lancaster Catholic's Liam Besecker's initial chance rattled around in front of the Black Knights goaltender Max Aukamp (22 saves).
"I put it on net," Jesberger said. "I don't know how it went in, but it did."
GOAL, Penn Manor. Jake Jesberger pokes in the rebound on the power play with 15:20 left. Lancaster Catholic's Liam Besecker led the initial rush. Comets lead the Black Knights 1-0. pic.twitter.com/DrpN6C0HIm— Tim Gross (@TimGrossLNP) February 23, 2019
The Black Knights (16-6-0-0), with players from Hempfield, Conestoga Valley and Donegal, had won the two regular-season games between the two teams. But the Comets defense forced their forwards to the outside, and Penn Manor goaltender Neel Mahapatra absorbed all 16 shots he faced.
"We just needed to take deep breaths and play hockey," Besecker said. "I think that's really what it came down to — not panicking with the puck, not throwing it away, keeping our composure and running the clock out."
Besecker had scored the game-winning goal for the Comets in Thursday's late-night 4-3 overtime playoff victory over MSM United. Before Friday's game, he checked Twitter and found messages of congratulations and support from across his school's community.
"That definitely fueled the fire for tonight's game," he said. "During the season, we were 0-2 against this team, so it feels good to come back and beat them in the playoffs."