By Nancy Haggerty
BREWSTER – No. 1 vs. 10. A blow-out, you’d think.
But Sunday’s Rye-Pelham Section 1 D2 championship game at Brewster Ice Arena was every bit a nail-biter before Will Cullen sealed a 5-3 win for No. 1-seed Pelham with an empty-netter with 1:02 to play.
Cullen gave Pelham a 1-0 lead with 9:30 left in the first, cutting across the high slot to beat Rye netminder Nat Deen five-hole.
But Deen was nearly spectacular after that.
The junior had 41 saves, the bulk coming in the second and third periods.
It was a different story line in the first, when Rye had a 9-7 shot advantage, scoring on two of those chances.
Connor Hatch, stepped around an over-playing defender, knotting the game with a power-play slapper with 6:31 left.
Then, Pelham’s Derek Mullane’s long wrister eluded Matt DeYoung, who was otherwise strong with 16 saves.
“There are some jitters in a game like that – in a one-game tournament,” Pelham coach Ed Witz said. “The favorite is the underdog… I thought we were a little tight (to start).”
Tight until after Witz and Cullen spoke between periods.
“We got pumped. We said, ‘We’re not ending this season here. We can’t let it happen this way,’ ” Cullen explained.
Early in the second, Hogan Peters spotted Andrew Schauer a step behind the Rye D and hit him with a breakaway pass. Schauer beat Deen glove-side.
It stayed 2-2 until Deen went down, making a great save on Cullen with 2:21 left in the second. The puck caromed to a wide-open Peters, who flipped it in.
“If I’d missed that I probably would have sat on the bench the rest of the game,” Peters joked.
Freshman Ben Hurd scored a big insurance, power-play goal at 12:38 of the third.
Rye’s Patrick Curran cut the lead to 4-3 with 9:11 left on a pretty redirection.
But Rye sabotaged itself from there with ill-thought penalties.
Pelham will host the Lake Placid-Beekmantown winner in regional play Saturday at Brewster.