In a season of peaks and valleys, Lynbrook-East Rockaway's hockey team found itself perched atop the mountain in the end.
The top-seeded Owls won the Liberty Division championship by sweeping Oceanside in a best-of-three series last Tuesday, with a 7-1 win at the Skating Center at Bethpage. The win also earned the Owls a trip to the NYSCSH Open Division Championships, starting March 1.
"We had some injuries and some tough losses but we learned from them and moved on," coach Jim Laurelli said. "But this championship was our first . . . It was fantastic."
Lynbrook-East Rockaway opened the season winning eight of its first nine games, but went just 3-3-1 heading into the playoffs. Despite the early success, Laurelli said the team was inconsistent until he combined his best three offensive weapons -- Jonathan Kaszuba, Gerard Clayton and Greg Hendrickson -- to create an unstoppable top line.
"We're all elite players so we have a better understanding of the game and know what to do together," Kaszuba said of his linemates. "Early we all were working on just working together and getting to know each other, and then by the end of the season they put us together."
After cruising past Garden City, 7-3, in an elimination semifinal, Oceanside presented a challenge for Lynbrook-East Rockaway in Game 1 of the finals. The Owls took a 4-3 lead as Kaszuba scored twice, both coming off assists by Clayton and Hendrickson, but Oceanside scored late to force overtime.
In the extra session, Clayton tallied the winner off a pass from Philip Laurelli, the Owls' top defenseman, to give Lynbrook-East Rockaway a 5-4 win.
In the championship clincher, six players scored for the Owls as they exploded for five goals in the third period. Kaszuba had one goal, Laurelli had a goal and an assist and Justin Leone, who missed 10 games with a broken collarbone, had two goals.
"Leone hurt his collarbone, I had a hip flexor a few weeks ago, Phil hurt is ACL, there were definitely a few injuries this year but it was really cool because a lot of the kids who didn't get points before got to score in the championship game," Kaszuba said. "It really felt like a team and feels great."