ASTON — The scouting report on Garnet Valley remains the same: stop Nico Gricco and Joe Dangelantonio. So too, it appears, do the results. A performance that would register as other-worldly for just about anyone else has become routine for the Jaguars' top line duo. In a 5-2 Central League semifinal victory over Lower Merion, Dangelantonio scored four goals. Gricco assisted on three of them. The two have combined for 71 goals and 137 points on the season.
"They're magic," Garnet Valley coach Bryan Ely said. "Pure magic."
A bit of the metaphysical might have been just what the Jaguars needed coming off a mini slump in an otherwise flawless season. They lost their first two games of the campaign last week, 5-1 defeats to first Rustin and then Haverford. In Monday's quarterfinals, the Jags needed overtime to put away a pesky Penncrest team, 4-3.
Much of that malaise seemed to carry into Wednesday's game against the Aces. Garnet Valley outshot Lower Merion 18-5 over the first two periods and yet trailed 1-0. A hopeful Will Levin shot from the sideboards slipped under Jags goaltender Greg Schenk late in the first period.
During the first 32 minutes, Garnet Valley had its fair share of chances, but simply couldn't capitalize. Part of it was bad luck. Part of it was missing the net. Most of it was stalwart goaltending from Aces netminder Ian Yenal.
"I thought he stood on his head," said Lower Merion coach Chase Watson. "He kept us in it."
Through two periods, Yenal had the Jaguars' number. He stopped Dangelantonio on a breakaway in the first period. He repeated the trick in the second. Gricco had attempts as well, but again Yenal was there.
Even the opposing coach took notice. "Ian Yenal played phenomenal," Ely said.
Garnet Valley, dominating play, needed a breakthrough. Enter Gricco and Dangelantonio. By the midway point of the game the Jags' top line was seeing the ice every other shift. At one point, Gricco played a full four minutes straight. Lower Merion was bending, but wouldn't break.
That is, until the third.
Just two minutes into the final frame, Dangelantonio collected a short pass from Gricco in his own zone and took off down the ice. He gained speed through the neutral zone before dragging the puck around the first Lower Merion defenseman at the blue line with the back of his blade. When the other defenseman tried to step into Dangelantonio, the winger coolly slid the puck between his legs. Once in on Yenal he feigned to the left and found room through the five hole.
"I don't really remember that one," Dangelantonio said. "Someone probably took the defenseman away."
Yes, someone did. It was you.
But just as the game shifted in Garnet Valley's favor, the Aces ripped it back. Luc Legaspi pounced on a rebound after a mad scramble in front of the net to restore the one-goal lead.
It was short-lived. On the next shift, Dangelantonio found himself in alone on Yenal again. Again he went to the backhand, but the goalie stifled the attempt with his glove, knocking the puck into the corner. Gricco raced in to collect it and fed his linemate in the slot. Tie game.
"We've been in a slump for the last week," Gricco said. "As soon as we got the first one we got going."
Dangelantonio completed his hat trick two minutes later. This time he waited out Yelan before shooting the puck high over the blocker side. The three goals took a total of three minutes and fifty-two seconds of game time.
"(The game plan) was to take away (Gricco and Dangelantonio's) time and space, play them physical," Watson said. "We battled hard. They're two of the best players in the league."
Dangelantonio added his fourth of the game three minutes after his third, a slump by his standards. Gricco fed him with a perfect backhand saucer pass off a two on one that he blasted into the net.
"The first thing on my mind when I get the puck is 'look for 12,'" Gricco said, in reference to his winger's jersey number.
Dangelantonio, whose hat trick was the fifth of his rookie season, concurred. "I look for seven."
Dylan Ely's empty-net goal with less than a minute remaining completed the scoring.
It wasn't all good for Garnet Valley, though. Top defenseman Stefan Onorato went into the boards awkwardly late in the game and stayed on the ice for several minutes. He was attended to by the trainers before his teammates carried him off.
"It's a huge loss," Ely said. "He's a really tough kid."
The Jaguars will meet Springfield in Friday's championship. They'll be shorthanded with Onorato likely out. But with the two magic men in the lineup, it's hard not to like their chances.
In the other Central League semifinal game:
Springfield 7, Haverford 1: Springfield rode four power-play goals to cruise to a 7-1 victory over Haverford in the second semifinal. Ryan Brawley scored twice, and Tyler Riddle had five points — two goals and three assists — to lead Springfield.
The Cougars jumped out to a 2-0 first-period advantage before the Fords started their steady march to the box. To further add to their troubles, goaltender Joseph Harant had to leave the game after a vicious collision with Brawley midway through the frame.
By the time the third period began, it was 5-0. Kyle Riddle, Andrew Astrino and Tom Coll also scored for Springfield. Ryan McNelis got the only goal for the Fords.
Springfield advances to the championship game, Friday at 7:30 against Garnet Valley. The Jaguars got the better of the Cougars during the season, winning 6-4 and 7-3.
"We haven't solved them yet," Springfield coach Phil Eastman said in advance of Friday's winner take all. "We are playing better now. But they're a handful; so tough to defend. You can play a great game defensively and then boom! They strike."