WILKES-BARRE — Back Mountain knew it had to take control in the third period of Monday’s varsity ice hockey championship.
And the team’s players had a track record of proving they could do it.
In Monday’s NEPA Scholastic Hockey League championship game, Back Mountain did it again, turning in another strong final period to down Wyoming Area, 8-4.
That came after Friday’s semifinal game against Susquehanna, when Back Mountain came back from a 6-1 deficit to win 8-7.
Back Mountain scored four unanswered goals in the third period Monday after both teams exchanged the lead three times in the first two periods. Brenden Jesse led the way for Back Mountain with four goals, while Trevor Kruczek scored the game-winner and had two goals and Zachary Aben had a goal and two assists.
Head coach Paul Ciaccia said the dramatic semifinal win gave his team momentum going into the championship, and the plan was to wear out Wyoming Area in the third period.
“We were able to run three lines most of the game, and that allowed us to tighten it up at the end when we needed to,” Ciaccia said. “We had the legs for it.”
Jesse opened the scoring when he pounced on a turnover in the offensive zone and fired a shot inside the far post for a 1-0 lead in the first two minutes. Wyoming Area tied it minutes later when Alex Hawk connected on a backhander for the first of his two goals on the night.
After that, both teams combined for five goals, with Back Mountain holding a 4-3 edge heading into the third period.
Jesse said his teammates expected a tight contest from Wyoming Area but knew they could outlast their opponent.
“They’re a good team and they always seem to hustle,” he said. “But they’re not necessarily a third period team. They only had two lines tonight and they slowed down.”
Still, Wyoming Area came out hard to open the third period, peppering Back Mountain goaltender Donald Rosenkrans with shots. But Rosenkrans came up big, including a stop on Wyoming Area’s Pat Musinski in front.
“He’s kept us in many games this year and he played fantastic tonight,” Ciaccia said of his Rosenkrans.
Wyoming Area did manage to strike first in the final period when Jake Switzer fired a wrister from the slot for a 4-4 tie.
But Back Mountain struck just 26 seconds later when Aben’s shot was stopped, but the puck laid in front where Kruczek lifted it into the open net. The goal gave Back Mountain a 5-4 lead and would prove to be the game-winner.
“We had a lot of momentum on the ice,” Kruczek said. “After that goal we had to keep up the pace.”
With six minutes left in the game, Back Mountain converted a power play opportunity when Jesse put home another rebound from an Aben shot.
Jesse scored two more times in the period — an empty net tally with less than two minutes remaining and his fourth of the night 22 seconds later to close out the win.
Back Mountain out-scored Wyoming Area 4-1 in the third period, and Abed said his team was a confident bunch after the second intermission.
“We had a great third period in the semifinal and tonight we had momentum going into the third,” Aben said. “After we got the two-goal lead we were excited. We knew what was coming.”
Back Mountain wrapped up the championship after posting a 9-3-2 record to finish in third place in the regular season, three points ahead of fourth place Wyoming Area. In last year’s postseason, Back Mountain was eliminated in its first game by Valley West.
In two meetings during the regular season, Back Mountain was 1-1 against Wyoming Area.
“It was huge to win this after we came back in the semi-final,” Jesse said. “We all played our hearts out for this championship. It’s a great feeling.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky