HERSHEY - Destiny fulfilled.
Palmyra completed its trip to the CPIHL mountaintop Saturday night at Hersheypark Arena by winning the program’s first Bears Cup, symbolic of Tier 1 ice hockey supremacy, with a 3-0 win over backyard rival Hershey in the competition’s 22nd edition.
In doing so, the Cougars denied Hershey, the defending champion, its 15th.
Zach Yingst, Drew Poleshuk and Parker Bucks each scored during the second period to provide Palmyra with all the offense it needed to skate off the ice with Bears Cup in hand. The Cougars were able to do so primarily thanks to the sublime effort in net from Liam Schmidt, who stopped all 24 shots he saw, including a pair of breakaways late from Jake Devine and sniper Sammy Steele, to keep his team comfortably on top.
“We had our keys to victory,” Palmyra coach Matt Yingst said. “(They were) playing our game, playing the full 48 minutes, and playing with class and composure. And we did that.
“I thought before the game, ‘OK, they’re not uptight, they’re prepared to play and play for each other.’ They wanted to win. They didn’t care who was going to do what.”
The seeds for Palmyra’s triumphant 20-1-0 championship campaign were sown shortly after last year’s humiliating 6-0 shutout loss to the Trojans in the final. The club got together shortly thereafter and dedicated itself to getting back to the Bears Cup final and winning it.
It began with offseason workouts and team dinners last spring, organized by coach Yingst, and continued through the summer into fall.
“I think last year’s final helped us to understand what it was going to take for (Saturday’s) game,” Matt Yingst said.
Most importantly, the Cougars displayed confidence and cohesion when the green light flicked on. The club evolved from an “I think we can” to an “I know we will” mentality, and that reflected in its play all season. Palmyra lost one time, to Hershey on Dec. 7. Otherwise, it kept a clean sheet in the “L” column.
The teams battled through the first period of Saturday’s final to a scoreless draw, but Palmyra came out the aggressors. Hershey seemed content to wait for a counter-attack, but Zach Yingst’s top-shelf snipe to beat Trojans' goalie Aaron Dobrolsky 31 seconds into the middle period changed the tenor. Poleshuk’s power play marker from the point seven minutes later doubled the advantage.
But Hershey coach Jarrod Hill credited Palmyra’s third goal of the stanza, coming from Bucks on the edge of the crease with just 13 seconds until the horn, for really putting his charges behind the eight-ball.
“That third goal they scored, with 13 seconds left, that one hurt,” Hill said. “That allowed them to sit back in the third period and clog things up.”
Schmidt needed to make a pair of huge saves early in the third to hold the Trojans at bay, however. Steele skated in alone from the red line on a short-handed breakaway and thought he scored, but a scrambling Schmidt was credited with the stop from the official, who ruled no goal. A short time later, Devine got loose behind Palmyra’s blue line corps but was cleanly stopped.
“I just did the small things I always do,” Schmidt said. “I thought (Steele) was going to shoot it, so I just went down and he came around to try and tuck it in. I knew I had to get back for it.”
Hershey out-shot Palmyra for the third period, but Schmidt was up to the task. Roughly nine game minutes after Devine’s breakaway attempt, he and his teammates held the Bears Cup at center ice.