Hunter Shepherd was exhausted and wasn't ready to return to the ice for the Olentangy Orange High School hockey team.
But coach Tim Pennington had other ideas as the Pioneers were tied with Olentangy Liberty in the final three minutes of overtime in their Capital Hockey Conference game Jan. 4 at Chiller North. Pennington sent the freshman forward back onto the ice, giving Shepherd the chance to play hero by scoring the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory over the Patriots.
"Coach asked me if I could go out there and I told him I needed a little more time," said Shepherd, whose goal came with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining in overtime. "He told me to suck it up because he needed me. I would have never been out there if he didn't make me."
On the winning goal, Shepherd's shot ricocheted off the skate of a Liberty player past freshman goaltender Cam Perry.
"I was on the net and (teammate Austin Wallace) hit it in to me," Shepherd said. "I was able to hit it off a Liberty player's skate -- I think it was Ethan Hollingsworth -- and it went in for the score."
Several Patriots fell dejectedly to the ice as the Pioneers began their celebration in front of a packed crowd.
"It's a battle and a game we definitely look forward to playing," Liberty coach Jack Hoogeveen said. "We knew it would be a battle, and we let them score early. We wanted to get that first goal because we didn't want to battle back."
Despite struggling with penalties, Orange held a 1-0 lead after the first period. Junior forward Dino Capoccia scored the goal off assists from sophomore forward Brandon Voytus and senior defenseman Jacob Potts.
"We probably were short-handed seven or eight minutes (of the 15 minutes) in the first period," Pennington said. "That really took a lot out of us and we were pretty exhausted in the third.
"Hunter was tired near the end of overtime, but I told him he had to go out for us. We had shortened our lines in overtime, just like it seemed Liberty had done. Everyone was dragging."
Liberty tied the game with 10:51 left in the third period on a goal by junior defenseman Cole Bumpass. Junior forward Chris Bergamesca and sophomore forward Brock Rumbaugh each had an assist.
Orange survived a penalty that was called late in the third period and carried over to overtime. Liberty managed three shots in the final 12 seconds of regulation on the power play but none made it past Pioneers senior goalie Clay Horvath, who finished with 35 saves.
"I had no clue where the puck was," Horvath said. "I thought it was underneath me. I just wanted to kill out the clock.
"The atmosphere was great and I think it had a big influence on the game. It was really loud and I think it pumped up both of our teams."
Perry had 27 saves for Liberty, which was tied for sixth with Lakewood St. Edward in last week's state poll behind top-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius. The Patriots were ranked first in the district poll last week.
"Both teams played hard and we thought we played well enough to win the game," Hoogeveen said. "It was a good, clean game and both teams played well."
In the Parma Padua Christmas Tournament held Dec. 21-23, the Patriots tied St. Edward at 3, tied St. Ignatius at 2 and defeated Mentor Lake Catholic 2-1 before tying St. Edward at 2 in the third-place game.
"We had a tremendous tournament at Parma Padua," Hoogeveen said. "We tied St. Edward twice and also tied St. Ignatius, which is the top team in the state. Then (junior defenseman) Nick Kouskouris hit a mid-air shot for a goal in the final seconds to beat Lake Catholic. We went up and played great against some pretty good teams."
Last week, Orange was ranked third in the district poll behind Liberty and Dublin Jerome but was not ranked in the state poll.
With the victory over Liberty, the Pioneers clinched the Davis Champps Cup, named in honor of former Olentangy Local School District superintendent Scott Davis and sponsored by Champps Americana restaurant. The award goes to the team in the school district with the best record in head-to-head league games.
Orange defeated Olentangy 9-1 on Dec. 16.
"We knew they were ranked sixth in the state and now this gives us the Davis Cup," Shepherd said. "There was a lot of hype before this game and it lived up to it. It was a great game with a great crowd. It was a lot of fun."
Liberty and Orange will meet again in the opening round of the Thomas Worthington Martin Luther King Tournament at 5 p.m. Jan. 18 at Chiller North.
Braves sweep Scioto in league play
Olentangy dropped to 4-16 overall and 2-10 in the CHC-Blue Division with a 5-1 loss to Dublin Coffman on Jan. 6.
The Braves picked up two of their wins in the past two weeks, defeating Dublin Scioto 8-3 on Dec. 30 and 7-5 on Jan. 5 in league play.
In the latter meeting with the Irish, junior forward Dylan Ahonen had two goals and junior defenseman Austin Moore, sophomore defenseman Josh Seeman, senior forward Casey Stanley, junior forward Vaughn Wallace and senior defenseman Drew Woitovich each had one. Freshman goalie Landon Diedrich had 14 saves.