The turning point in Red Lion's season wasn't its overtime win against rival Dallastown. And it wasn't the Lions' dominating 14-5 win over defending YAIAA champion West York.
No, the turning point was the game that followed the West York victory: A loss to Eastern York, a sub .500 team in the bottom-fourth of the league's standings. Red Lion (8-2, 7-1) came out flat and gave up 16 goals in a surprising loss.
"It kind of woke our team up," Red Lion head coach Stefan Striffler said of the loss to Eastern. "We kind of said we need to be a lot more focused and a lot more ready to go every single game. When we beat West York, everyone just got too confident. We beat them on a Friday, we came back on Monday and practice was horrendous, then we lost."
Maybe a loss was exactly what Red Lion needed. A refocused Lions team has won three in a row since its slip up in Wrightsville, including a 17-15 win over York Catholic and Thursday's 15-5 victory over York Suburban — two of the Lions' top contenders in the YAIAA race.
"It was a fluke, I think," Red Lion junior Sam Emig said of the setback to Eastern. "We've been practicing harder after that and that's starting to carry over to the games."
The Lions dominated the final three quarters on Thursday, routinely winning the faceoff and peppering Trojans' goaltender Blake Wallace with a barrage of shots. At one point in the second quarter, the Lions had the ball in their offensive zone for 10-plus minutes and reeled off a 7-0 run.
"They're unselfish, they have good finishers and they share the ball well so it's never just one guy to worry about," Trojans head coach Luke Beam said of Red Lion. "Our biggest takeaway was our kids never stopped battling and that's not a surprise. Up, down or in a close game, our kids fight."
Emig and Gemmill combined for seven goals and four assists in Red Lion's 15-5 win over York Suburban. Brandon Stoneburg
In a battle of two of the league's top offensive duos — Suburban's Collin Mailman and Mike Sipes and Red Lion's Emig and Jac Gemmill — it was the Lions' duo who provided most of the fireworks. Emig and Gemmill, who each recently surpassed the 200 career points plateau, combined for eight goals and four assists, while Sipes and Mailman were limited to two goals and two assists, all by Mailman.
Striffler was hesitant to call Emig and Gemmill the absolute best duo in such a talented league, but credited their chemistry as a key to Red Lion's offensive success.
"They're probably the best in terms of teamwork because they've played together for so long," Striffler said of Emig and Gemmill. "They know what each other is going to do and they play off each other so well."
Gemmill and Emig have played together since Emig was in eighth grade and Gemmill was a freshman for Red Lion. They've lost count of how many assists they have to each other, Gemmill joked.
"The chemistry is really strong for us," Gemmill said. "There have been multiple times when I just throw it up and it just ends up in his stick. We've put up a lot of points together since we started playing together."
They'll have to continue to put up a lot of points if Red Lion hopes to come away with a YAIAA title in a crowded field. Thursday's win helped the Lions keep pace with Central York, who they'll see next week, at the top of the standings.
"We have to take every team seriously because from talking to other coaches, it seems we're a lot of team's Super Bowl," Striffler said. "They want to beat Red Lion. I get that. So we have to understand we're going to have to be ready every day."