The seventh-seed Langley Saxons won 4-2 over the Briar Woods Falcons in an amazing upset last week.
The sixth-seed Falcons knocked off two higher seeds on their way to the Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League pure championship game March 1 at the Ashburn Ice House, but were upended by Langley, who riding the hot hand of goaltender Max Campbell, won their first NVSHL crown in program history.
Briar Woods was denied its third playoff title in the league, which began in 2001.
With the rink packed three deep all around and the stands overflowing, the Falcons (9-4-1) took the Saxons (9-3-2) to a 1-1 tie after one 18-minute period. Ryan Farr stuffed back a rebound of Kieran Lynch’s shot for the late equalizer.
In a six-minute span of the second period Langley scored twice, mounting a lead the Falcons couldn’t overcome. With eight minutes left in the third, senior forward and first-team all-NVSHL selection Ryan Battles spun around and swung a wrister into the net, bringing Briar Woods within one.
Penalties hurt the Falcons’ plight all night. Briar Woods was whistled for 46 penalty-infraction minutes and gave Langley eight power plays, with the Saxons converting on two.
“We were undisciplined at times, and that cost us with the number of penalties we had,” said Robert Nissel, Briar Woods’ first-year head coach after a season as an assistant. “While their goalie certainly played well, I think we were unlucky, with the amount of chances we had out front and just couldn’t get a stick to.”
A power play goal early in the third put Langley back up two. The Falcons kept the pressure on, slapping the puck loudly off Campbell’s pads, but were consistently denied.
Briar Woods outshot the Saxons 38-20, but Campbell halted 36 Briar Woods shots. Falcon goalie Ryan Vanesko made 16 saves.
Battles did not look pleased with the runner-up honor, but took some solace anyway.
“We were a lower seed team that battled our way through it,” said the senior captain, the Falcons’ leader in assists (nine) and points (15) in the 10-game regular season. “We almost got this job done, and I can’t be more proud of the guys in that locker room. Wouldn’t want to change a second of it.”
Briar Woods junior James Ford, among the team’s scoring leaders with nine regular-season points, said the Falcons’ playoff run is a teachable moment for the team’s returners.
“We have experience now getting all the way to the championship game,” said Ford, an assistant captain.
Briar Woods upset No. 3 Madison and No. 4 Battlefield to earn the spot in the final.
“We now see that it’s not easy.”
Nissel said he had developed as much affection for this Briar Woods team as any he’s coached.
“Frankly, I asked a lot. I asked them to change positions, play different roles,” Nissel said. “I don’t think our seed represented our club’s level of play. What we were able to do at the right time in the playoffs, I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve shown.”
Favorites fall early
The NVSHL saw perhaps its greatest parity in recent memory, with no team going without a loss in the regular season, no team earning more than 10 wins, and a 12-team playoff loaded with upsets.
Perennial stalwart Stone Bridge, the No. 2 seed, was bounced in the quarterfinals by Langley, which then toppled No. 1 seed Chantilly.
Riverside and Freedom each earned playoff berths among the 15 eligible teams, but lost in the opening round. No. 8 Broad Run won its first-round game before falling to Chantilly in the quarterfinals.