ALBANY - Kenmore/Grand Island coach Jeff Orlowski paced a set of stairs, unsure of what to eventually say inside a locker room full of distraught girls’ hockey players.
He was even a little uncertain of how to feel after a somewhat surprising run to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championship game. A path which again ended in defeat.
“I feel bad for them,” Orlowski said after a 3-2 loss to Alexandria Bay, as a couple of leads fell apart Saturday. “But you’ve also got to be proud. We’ve been the second-best team in the state two years in a row.”
He paused, then somberly added the obvious in a quiet area at Albany Academy: “It’s just hard.”
Even harder because of how it was settled — by a shot scored while laying on the ice, barely trickling through the goalie’s legs early in the third period.
“We played them to a dead heat. They got one crazy bounce,” Orlowski said. “The girl was on her back — what are you going to do?”
Kenmore/GI defeated Alexandria in the semifinals last year, but couldn’t replicate it.
“We felt like this year was our year. Our girls were mentally prepared, physically prepared. I feel like that gave us the edge,” coach Brian Hudon said.
The first three goals were all scored by power play.
Taylor Story gave K/GI a 1-0 lead late in the first period, while Olivia Smith — who had two goals in Friday night’s semifinals — made it 2-1 3:18 into the second. (Lina Mirabella had a hand in both goals.)
The DevilDogs, however, couldn’t get to the third period with the lead. And they nearly faced a deficit before officials disallowed a goal scored right at the buzzer — deeming it came a split-second too late.
A tie was a relief. But third periods hadn’t been kind lately to Orlowski’s teams. They’ve built up margins, only to have them disappear. Like the semifinal less than 24 hours earlier: A 4-0 lead after two periods turned into a 4-3 win.
This one wasn’t so dramatic. Just enough. Kelsey Bannister made a quick move from the left corner to the middle of the ice. As she slipped, she shoveled a soft shot that found the net.
A couple of minutes earlier, DevilDog goalie Cara Klopp thought she allowed a slapshot to get past her. She reached behind in desperation, but the puck had deflected wide.
This time wasn’t so fortunate 3:40 into the final period.
“It just went through my legs,” said Klopp, who still earned top-player honors afterward to represent her team.
Alexandria controlled most of the final 11:20, but did get fortunate twice. A pass in the offensive zone slipped to the opposite side of the rink. it led to a whiffed attempt in front of the net with five minutes left.
The Dogs pulled their goalie in the final minute, and Smith barely missed a shot with less than 10 seconds left.
It is Alexandria’s (Section III) first title, capping a 15-1-1 season. Kenmore/Grand Island finished 11-6-2. Orlowski said he “didn’t expect to be here” at the beginning of the season, after losing five crucial seniors.
“Two and a half weeks ago, I still would’ve said you were crazy if you said I’d be talking to you at the end of the state championship game,” he said. “But these girls really worked for it. Who knows? Maybe we don’t get back soon. Everyone will look back and realize what a huge accomplishment this is.”