COLORADO SPRINGS — Doherty hockey coach Will English exited the locker room with a look of extreme relief. His Spartans left the Mark “Pa” Sertich Ice Center with a zero still registered in the loss column, but after just two periods of play, he would’ve thought he had a better chance of winning the lottery.
Doherty overcame a three-goal deficit and battled back to escape Sertich with a 3-3 tie against Pine Creek thanks in big part to Richie Flores and Nick Hernandez scoring two goals inside of the final two and a half minutes.
The result says tie, but English will be quick to acknowledge that in this case, a tie was a win for his team.
"It really was," English said. "I talked to the team and it brings us back to humble footing. You need a little bit of adversity, guys have to fight through this."
Doherty got on the attack early, gaining an early 4-1 edge in shots on goal. But it was just Pine Creek’s second shot – on its first power play of the game – that put them on the board.
Austin Gipson fired the puck from the right side and it got just over goalie Ashton Goble’s left shoulder. With neither team surrendering a lot of goals through the course of the season, the early was key in Pine Creek settling in and taking control of the game.
The tenth-ranked Spartans (10-0-1 overall) hoped to return the favor on their first power play, but Austin Sawyer was able to attack the Doherty goal and the puck was misplayed by Goble. Sawyer converted on the wide-open look for his 13th goal of the year, making it a 2-0 game with just under three minutes left in the second period.
"We felt pretty good after the second goal and then we got the third one where we were feeling really good coming in (to the locker room)," Sawyer said. "In the third we just got complacent and we didn't go hard the entire time."
In the latter half of the second period, the Spartans got their second power play opportunity. An attempt by the Eagles (8-0-2) to clear gave Doherty a rare friendly bounce and a four-on-one look at the net.
The shot sailed wide, essentially playing into Doherty's fortunes up to that point of the night.
Right as the power play ended, Luke Doyle found Roderick Glassford streaking down the ice for Pine Creek. Glassford pulled Goble just far enough away from the net before flicking the puck to Alex Bergquist who made it a 3-0 game and giving fans on both sides of the Sertich the feeling that Pine Creek was heading home with the win.
"We knew the next goal would be a big goal," Pine Creek coach Ed Saxer said. "We talked about that next goal because obviously 3-1 or 4-0 is a huge difference."
How right he was.
Stratton Miller had been a wall the entire night and ended the game with 23 saves, but the Spartans finally got one by him on their fourth power play opportunity of the game.
A rush of the net resulted in Garrett Bogan scoring with an assist from Chase Chapman and pulling the Spartans to within two.
Once that first goal got in, the Spartans settled into their style of play, just maybe a little later than they would have liked.
"I think the excitement set at that time," English said. "You get that momentum shift at that point, we knew we had get the next one. We just wanted them to go sooner than what had happened."
Eventually, though, it happened. With two minutes, 16 seconds left on the clock, Flores pulled the Spartans to within a goal. Seventy-four seconds later, Hernandez got one by Miller to tie the game.
"I was really hyped," Hernandez said. "I was playing really good though in that period because I knew we were going to be able to come back."
Neither team scored in the five-minute overtime and both came off the ice with very different feelings. The Eagles felt like they had let a big-time win slip away. The Spartans felt fortunate that they left the building still without a loss to their name.
"The two teams battled out there," Saxer said. "They didn't give up, we didn't give up. And then when it came down to the end, in the last seven minutes they fought a little more than we did."