VOORHEES – Conor Riley laid the foundation for a championship victory, but it was Rory O’Hara who delivered the crown.
The two players, one just beginning his high school career and the other finishing his, were the key contributors Monday when Eastern Regional High School defeated Kingsway 4-3 in overtime.
The victory sealed the Vikings' South Jersey Ice Hockey League Tier 1 championship in a game played at the Flyers Skate Zone.
One of the few seniors on the team, O’Hara deposited the winning goal just 14 seconds into the extra period to wrap up the title.
Before that, the freshman Riley scored all three regulation goals, including a laser shot from just inside the blue line that gave his team a 2-1 lead in the second period.
O’Hara was mobbed by his teammates after taking a deflection of the goalie's pads and tipping home the winning goal.
“This is my senior year, so it’s just so much better going out like that,” O’Hara said. “This my last hockey game ever – I’m not playing in college – so it was just the best possible way I could have gone out.
“I just got a pass (from Dom Fonte) across the middle, and it hit off his (the goalie’s) pad. I just stuffed it right in. I just whacked as hard as I could and just hoped it went in.”
“The winning goal was awesome,” said Vikings coach Anthony Zuber. “For one of our seniors to get it – 20 years from now he’ll probably remember this day.”
The fact that the game-winner came from a senior is a bit unusual for Eastern, a team that’s dominated by freshmen.
Before Riley’s big night, classmate Maxim Kuznetsov was honored before the game as the league’s breakthrough player of the year.
O’Hara acknowledged that freshmen have played a big part in the team’s success.
“We’re such an elite team and it’s all because of the freshmen,” he said. “We have a bunch of freshmen, but they’re the best freshmen you can get. (A player like) Conor, all he does is put the puck in the net every game.”
Like many of today’s players both Riley and Kuznetsov started at a young age.
Riley spoke about how under the guidance of his father, he began his hockey career at the age of five.
“Ever since I was a little kid he’s always wanted to get on the ice,” said Riley. “He was the big influence in my life.”
He called Monday’s effort the best game of his young career.
“This means a lot,” said Riley. “I’m a freshman on the varsity team.... What else can you ask for?”
Riley collected his goals Monday in a couple of different ways. He scored twice from in close, including the opening goal of the game six minutes into the contest. There was also the goal from just inside the blue line to break a second-period 1-1 tie.
He attributed his goal-scoring abilities to one thing.
“I practice every day,” he said. “That’s pretty much it – practice and practice.”
Kuznetsov didn’t score a goal Monday, but Zuber says he’s been the team’s leading scorer all season.
“His father is the Flyers skating coach, and the kid’s been on the ice since he was probably two,” said Zuber. “He’s one of the team leaders.”
The fact that O’Hara scored so early in the overtime was probably a good thing for the Vikings.
The Dragons seemed to have the momentum, having overcome a 3-1 deficit in the third period to send the game into overtime. A tally by by Kingsway’s Mike Moss with 6:26 to play evened the score.
“It was rough because we were up so much and we felt we had the game so much under control,” O’Hara said. “We got up because we had some great goals from Conor. Then we kind of got overwhelmed a little bit.
“But we brought it back together, and that’s what counts.”