Tai Stern, Warwick's leading goal scorer during the regular season, had not scored a goal in the Central Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League playoffs.
That changed Monday.
With his team trailing Penn Manor and the season on the line at Lancaster Ice Rink, Stern scored a pair of goals that turned a deficit into a lead and propelled the Warriors to a 4-2 victory that clinched a spot in Friday's Viola Cup final scheduled for 6:15 p.m. against West Shore at Hersheypark Arena.
The Warriors (16-4-1-0) trailed 2-1 Monday with 1:41 left in the second period when Stern swung to the outside and slung the puck through a crowd, past Penn Manor goalie Neel Mahapatra (25 saves) and into the far side of the net.
"It helps get the team hyped up," Stern said, "when you score a big goal like that, especially the tying goal. After that, everybody was like, 'Let's go get another one. Let's get another one. Keep going.'"
Stern kept it going for Warwick's offense 3:13 into the third period, cutting into the middle of the Penn Manor zone and pulling the puck back before snapping a shot into the bottom-left corner of the net. Brady Zimmerman and Kyle Zimmerman bookended the Warwick scoring. Kyle's power play goal with 5:06 left cushioned the lead.
"It's great," said Tim Emenheiser, Warwick's coach, whose team was shut out by West Shore Thursday. "They played a lot better. The boys were moving their feet, unlike the other night. They were winning one-on-one battles. They were beating the other guys to the puck. Good stuff."
GOAL, Warwick. Tai Stern scores his second of the game to put the Warriors up 3-2 on Penn Manor. There’s 12:52 left. pic.twitter.com/efrWGvb8qB— Tim Gross (@TimGrossLNP) February 26, 2019
The Comets (16-7-0-0), with players from Penn Manor, Lancaster Catholic, Lancaster Country Day and Solanco, had owned leads of 1-0 and 2-1 on goals from Lancaster Country Day's Thomas Kiely and Penn Manor's Thomas Bonnici. They had a chance to build on their 2-1 lead with a power play 10 minutes into the second period but came up empty.
"Our nemesis all year," said Penn Manor coach John Ricci, "has been shooting the puck but missing the net. We had plenty of opportunities."
Of the 26 Comet shots that found the net, Warwick goaltender Logan Hann, a finalist for the CPIHL's Justin Yingling Memorial Award, turned away 24.
"Logan's been the same way all year long," Emenheiser said, "every game. I don't know if he's had a bad game this year."
That'll do it. Warwick rallies to defeat Penn Manor, 4-2, and will play West Shore for the Viola Cup Friday at Hersheypark Arena. pic.twitter.com/B0OhXnw4lD— Tim Gross (@TimGrossLNP) February 26, 2019
The clock wound down. The players shook hands. The Warriors celebrated their first title-game berth since 2016, and the Comets skated off the ice for the last time as a group.
"I'm proud of our team," Ricci said, "and excited about our future. We've got a lot of underclassmen, and I'm happy about their progress."