By DAVE HANNEMAN
SYLVANIA — Tuesday’s district quarterfinal hockey game between Findlay and Toledo St. Francis wasn’t really the rubber match between the two schools.
But it definitely had that rubbery quality to it.
“Both teams are so equally matched that, in my opinion, where we won the game was the bounces,” St. Francis coach Chris Varga said after the Knights’ 4-2 victory.
“The size of Findlay. Our speed. Who knows? I think it just came down to we got some lucky bounces.”
Findlay High School coach Joe Longo concurred.
“The momentum swung both ways quite a bit,” Longo said.
“There were a lot of ups and downs in that third period. It became a real free-for-all but the bounces went their way and didn’t go ours.”
St. Francis advances to face top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Toledo St. John’s in Friday’s district semifinal. Findlay, which went 12-6-2 after a 3-8-2 start to the season, ended up 15-14-4.
With both teams a bit tentative from the start, St. Francis came up with the game’s first big play.
With Geoff Kern off for high sticking, junior forward Ricky Kwapich intercepted a pass, went in one-on-one and beat Findlay goalie Joe Longo, Jr. with 3:01 left in the first period.
The next 23 scoreless minutes were underscored by defense, goal tending and missed opportunities.
Longo stopped eight shots in the first period, and another eight in the second to keep it a one-goal game. He stoned-walled Kwapich on a break-away three minutes into the second period and made two big saves late in the period, one on a two-on-one break.
Kade Phipps was just as stingy for St. Francis, stopping 15 shots in the first two periods to keep Findlay off the scoreboard.
The Trojans weren’t helping their cause, either. Findlay failed to score on three power-play opportunities in the first two periods, including one where the Trojans had a five-on-three advantage for a 45-second span late in the first period. The Trojans were also shut out during a three-shot barrage late in the second period.
Mason Williams finally broke the ice, punching rebound past Phipps 4:28 into the third period to tie the game 1-1. St. Francis answered right back, with Matt Opblinger’s power play goal 48 seconds later restoring the one-goal cushion.
Findlay tied it once again when Noah Hindall, with assists from Clay Robertson and Adam Weems, lit the light with 7:43 left on the clock.
“We found some things we thought we could exploit and we started putting up some goals,” Coach Longo said.
St. Francis was finding the range as well, though. Two minutes after Hindall tied the game with his 19th goal of the season, Opblinger, one of just four seniors on a young St. Francis team, got his stick on the puck 30 feet out front and rifled a shot into the net.
St. Francis then got defensive, but the Knights nearly gave up a tying goal in the final minute. With Connor Curlis off for slashing and a game delay called on the bench, St. Francis had a five-on-three advantage. Hindall took the puck from his own end and, with little resistance, charged through the Knights defense and unleashed a shot from almost point blank range. Only a good save by Phipps with 24 seconds left kept the game from being tied a third time.
“You just never know which way the puck is going to go,” Longo said.
“I was really proud of the boys because they never gave up, not in the third period, not the entire game.”
St. Francis, which ended up with a 32-22 advantage in total shots, added an empty-net goal with 14 seconds left.
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