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State crown for Long Beach hockey

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There’s a popular saying in sports and in life that states that it’s not how you start that’s important, but rather where you finish. The Long Beach varsity hockey team epitomized this adage during this past weekend’s state tournament.

The Marines shook off a bad loss in the opening game of the tournament and battled back to win their second consecutive New York State High School Club Hockey League Small/Mixed School championship on Monday afternoon at Northwest Arena in upstate Jamestown. 

Junior defenseman Jack Gannon scored two goals and a pair of assists as Long Beach beat Cold Spring Harbor 6-1 in the championship game. Team captain Dan Barto, Patrick Mechow, Ryan Niland, and Shane Murphy also scored for the Marines. Gannon was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

“Winning never gets old,” Long Beach head coach Joe Brand said. “You get a new group of kids each year and to see the look on their faces is just very special. For many, it’ll be the pinnacle of the athletic career. I’m just so happy for the kids.”

After dropping the opener, an 8-3 rout at the hands of Cold Spring Harbor, and a tie with Roy-Hart/Barker/Medina, the team the Marines beat in the 2019 title game, Long Beach needed to defeat Wilson/Newfane in its final game of the preliminary round to advance to the semifinal round. The Marines won 5-0, got a little help from the outcome of other games, and moved on to the medal round. 

A familiar foe in Manhasset awaited the Marines in the semifinals. And the two Nassau County rivals played a barn burner. Brian Brand’s goal late in the second period capped off the scoring in a 2-1 victory, but it was Kieran Byrne who saved the day. The junior goalie, who was the state tournament MVP in 2019, was a wall after surrendering a goal in the game’s opening minutes. 

In the final, the teams exchanged goals in the opening period, but it was all Long Beach after that. Barto, who along with hard-nosed forward Dylan Rutherig are the only seniors on the roster, Gannon, and Niland all scored to break the game open in the second period.

“We didn’t play the way we’re capable of playing in the first game, and knew we had to get it corrected,” Coach Brand said. “We recalibrated and responded.”

With Gannon, star defenseman Ronan Judge, and so many others returning next season, there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Marines will make another run at a championship in 2021. 

“We have some really good players, but we’re a unique team,” Coach Brand said. “I’ve been saying it all season long. We don’t have any stockbrokers on this team. We have plumbers, carpenters, and general contractors. All 20 of them contribute.”