By Nancy Haggerty
WHITE PLAINS — It could have been billed as a battle between youth and experience.
The White Plains High hockey team, with a 17-year coach and 17 players back from last year’s 14-7-1 squad, vs. crosstown rival Stepinac, with its first-year coach and just seven returnees from last year’s 10-5 team.
Saturday, experienced prevaile — if just barely — as White Plains rallied with three third-period goals to edge Stepinac 3-1 in the White Plains Thanksgiving Tournament.
Senior forward Wyatt Zuk got behind the White Plains defense and beat goalie Chris Stangarone (27 saves) with a backhander with 4:30 left in the first period.
But with good goaltending on both ends, that was the only scoring until Anthony DeMaria knotted it for the Tigers when his slapper from about eight feet out dribbled in off goalie Raymond Guerriero’s glove with 12:55 remaining in the third period.
“It had eyes. The puck had eyes,” White Plains coach Howie Rubenstein said, smiling.
“No. 1. It’s No.1 by far,” DeMaria said. “It’s the most exciting goal I ever scored. … It lit the fire.”
Indeed, with the Crusaders’ defense scrambling in its zone and White Plains applying constant pressure, Mike Carrier lifted the puck into an all-but-empty net with Guerriero down by his left post just 46 seconds later.
“When we finally broke through, the guys got a burst of confidence. I was waiting for that all game, but their goalie was excellent,” Rubenstein said.
Guerriero, who had 32 saves, explained he slipped down when a piece of his broken right pad went under his skate. The same thing occurred on DeMaria’s goal.
“I’ve been waiting four years for this win,” a dejected Guerriero said. “This is a big rivalry game. We wanted to show this is our house.”
That hope ended with Chris Medeot’s power-play goal with just nine seconds left.
Stepinac coach Matthew Hogan, who’d hoped to pull Guerriero for an extra skater in the closing minute, wasn’t pleased with senior Robert Sanders’ roughing penalty, nor with his team’s response to DeMaria’s goal.
“We don’t seem to deal well with adversity,” he said. “We got caught running around and a small crack in the dam turned into a big mess.”