The final horn sounded and Zach Pard wrapped his arms around charging goalie Sam Downs.
The bench emptied and soon the rest of the team surrounded the freshman goalie, swallowing him in a sea of bodies that slowly moved towards the boards as more teammates skated into the pile, making Downs disappear.
“I can’t see anything,” said Downs, who stands just less than five feet tall. “I’m just trying to stay on my feet because I don’t want to get crushed. The mob just kind of moved and I go along with it.”
Downs played bigger than his size during Tuesday’s Maryland Student Hockey League play-in game against Huntingtown at Wheaton Ice Rink.
He made 28 saves, Pard scored three goals and the Oakdale High School hockey team won, 6-5.
Downs was tested frequently throughout the game, especially in the final period. He faced 15 shots in the third — Oakdale (9-5-1 overall) took just six — while the puck was in the Bears’ defensive zone for the majority of the period.
With 8 minutes 37 seconds left in the game, Huntingtown trailed 5-4 and started a power play. Downs made sure he kept the puck out of the net, making four saves, and Pard eventually scored.
After defender Mairead Carey made a pass along the boards from the Bears’ defensive corner and took a hard hit afterwards, Pard gathered the puck and weaved his way through the Huntingtown defense. He made his way left and used his left-handed shot to place the puck in the upper-right part of the net.
Downs stopped two breakaways during the game. The first came less than two minutes into the game, holding on to a shot at his body from John Hand (assist). The second was with 3:38 remaining in the game. Downs spread his legs flat against the ice and made the stop with his left pad.
A second-period Huntingtown shot glanced off of Downs’ helmet, hit the crossbar and fell to the line, where Downs pounced on it. He made 11 saves in the third period.
“He played fantastic,” said Carey, who got an assist on Pard’s goal and played a key role defensively. “He kept us in the game a couple times. We shut down in the second period and he just kept us going. We came out in the third period and we stepped it up.”
Pard’s first goal came 32 seconds into the second period on a power play. After a few passes between him, Ian Soifer and Ryley Harper, Pard held on to the puck for a few seconds, allowing a shooting lane to open, and placed a wrist shot to the top right of the net.
His third goal was with 12:44 left. After receiving a long, cross-ice pass at mid-ice from Soifer, Pard and Harper crossed the blue line together against one defender. The defender didn’t commit to either skater so Pard took the shot and scored.
“There’s always a time to go out and score,” Pard said. “You have to know when it is and this was the time.”
Soifer opened scoring in the first period on a blast from high in the slot. Harper scored soon after, 25 seconds into a power play, on a shot from the blue line.
Huntingtown (11-9) tied the game with two goals in the final two minutes of the period, which came 39 seconds apart and were both from Patrick Laiosa.
Oakdale never led by two again until Pard’s third goal. Tyler Sullivan scored Huntingtown’s fifth goal, a short-handed score, with 21.9 seconds remaining in the game.
“We’re just resilient,” Soifer said. “That’s not a good way to play the game, obviously, going back and forth. It got down to about two minutes and we let in a soft one and we were fighting [to win]. That’s never good, 21 seconds and a one-goal lead. It could have been bad, but Sam is playing awesome and he’s really keeping us in games.”
Added Huntingtown assistant coach Scott Brunstrom: “Their goaltender played well at times and they were tough in front of the net. We weren’t as tough as we needed to be at times in front of the net. It was a back-and-forth game. I thought we had a couple chances on breakaways that we couldn’t put home. That’s probably the difference right there. We put those home and we might be one up instead of two down in the last three or four minutes.”