The East Williston hockey team advanced to the semifinals of the state championship last Sunday, but lost 7-3 to the same Oceanside squad that beat them for the county championship.
“It was bittersweet,” East Williston Coach Jon Turk said of the end of what he called an “immensely successful season.”
The team finished its regular season at the top of the Liberty Division with a record of 13-6-2. That earned East Williston its place in the state playoffs.
Turk said the team’s goal in the playoffs was to reach the semifinal round. But after winning two playoff games against two strong upstate squads on Saturday to reach the semifinals, he said the team was feeling like it could make it to the final. Only Oceanside stood in the way.
“There was real elation on Saturday after we won those two games. We went into Sunday feeling that we could go all the way,” Turk said.
The players sounded confident as they were boarding the bus at The Wheatley School to travel upstate for the playoffs last Thursday.
“We feel confident because we played strong all year,” said goalie Graham Turk, a junior at Wheatley. “As long as we stick to our game and play good defensive hockey, we should be able to play well.”
Turk anchored the defense through the season, recording three shutouts along the way.
Some of the players were eager for a shot at playing Oceanside again in the playoffs.
“We can end up playing [Oceanside] in the finals and we’ll take them off,” said forward Dan Solomon.
Solomon didn’t get that far, suffering a knee contusion in the game East Williston played on Saturday against City Honors. The team also lost Ryan Pfingst with a broken wrist in that same game, which East Williston won 5-3.
The team opened the tournament on Friday with a 5-3 loss to the Iroquois Chiefs, the team that ultimately won the state championship.
But they bounced back on Saturday with the win over City Honors in what Turk termed a “very physical” game. Despite losing two players, East Williston triumphed in the afternoon contest that day against another Upstate squad, Orlean, by a 4-3 score.
So the scene was set for East Williston to settle the score against an Oceanside team that it had beaten once during the regular season and once in its three-game series for the county crown. When East Williston took a 3-0 lead against Oceanside early in the semifinal game, the team appeared to be on the verge of reaching the championship game.
“It was setting up like a little bit of redemption. It was the penalties that killed us,” Turk said.
He had instructed his players before the game to “play smart” against Oceanside. But the tide quickly turned on a series of penalties that accounted for most of Oceanside’s seven goals.
“Our emotions got the better of us. Oceanside beat us in the county championship, so our kids were looking for revenge,” Turk said.
But East Williston advanced further in the playoffs than it had done last season, when it fell short of the semi-final round.
“This was a very special year,” said Turk, who has coached most of the players on the squad for the past five seasons.
There was a bond that they developed over those seasons of playing together. Turk said that was evident when the players gathered in Ryan Pfingst’s room on Saturday night to watch basketball together, and support their injured teammate.
“It’s a special group of boys, mature beyond their years,” Turk said. “They stuck together as a team.”