WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Facing one of the state's best face-off specialists and defenses, Longmeadow middie Max Stukalin rose to the occasion, powering the Lancers to a 15-9 victory over Algonquin in the Division 2 Central/West title game.
The athletic junior scored five goals and added an assist as Longmeadow went on a seven-goal run in the first half to bury the Tomahawks. Things started slowly for the Lancers, however, who watched Algonquin goalie Colton King clear the ball himself and dish out an assist to Mike Tascione to take a quick lead.
Tomahawk junior middie Mike Martens started the day quickly at the faceoff-X, winning the first two draws of the day, and eventually 15 out of 20, but Stukalin would quickly swing the momentum back to Longmeadow's side.
After a save by Lancer goalie Matt Pierson, Stukalin ended up with the ball in transition, then cut right and blasted one past King. Early in the second quarter, Stukalin was tackled to the ground twice on the same play, drawing a pair of penalty flags, but maintained possession of the ball both times. The Lancers would score on a Will Lukas goal to end that possession, and take a 7-3 lead into intermission.
After the game, first year Longmeadow coach Keith Campbell was not shy about singing the praises of his do-it-all midfielder.
"You know, I read the Top-10 players every week in Massachusetts, and there's nobody better (than Stukalin)," Campbell said. "I'll go on record: There's nobody better. Watch him in the summer, and watch him here with us, he's the best player (in the state). He's better than anybody, and he's going to prove it this year, he's going to prove it in the next couple of games. It's obvious to anybody that watches him, but we're out in the west and nobody sees us."
The biggest challenge for Stukalin would not come in the field, however. It would come at the X against Martens, who came into the game winning nearly 90 percent of his draws.
Though Martens still had a great day handling face-offs, Stukalin effectively eliminated Algonquin's transition game by slowing Martens and the Tomahawks out of the gate. Stukalin even managed to snag a face-off win and take it the distance for a quick goal himself early in the second half.
"(Stukalin) is an awesome player, really athletic" Martens said. "He had a different approach (on face-offs). He just tried to create a 50/50 ground ball, so I just tried to go quicker."
"Throughout practice we knew it was going to be a grind at the faceoff-X," Stukalin said. "We were practicing not winning the face-offs and just staying on his hands to prevent transition opportunities. We ended up minimizing them (Friday)."
While Stukalin led the Lancers in scoring, it was another stellar day for attackman Will Lukas. After scoring the game-winning goal in the district semis against St. John's (Shrewsbury) earlier this week, Lukas poured in three goals and added a pair of assists against the Tomahawks. After being upset by rival Westfield in last year's district tournament, and a close call against the Pioneers this year, Lukas believes his team is now focused on the task at hand.
"I think we had more momentum coming into this game after our overtime win (against St. John's)," Lukas said. "It feels great, but we still have to get prepared for the state semis. It's going to be hard, but we've got to keep on being a brotherhood."
Next up for Longmeadow will be a Division 2 Central/West state semifinal game against Beverly. That game will be played Monday at 7 pm at Burlington High School.