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By Zach Cavanagh

IRVINE – JSerra goalie Jack Ferletic saw plenty of rubber on Sunday morning.

By game’s end, all Ferletic saw was his teammates piling on top of him and the shine of a gold medal.

JSerra was outshot by Santa Margarita, 32-12, but Ferletic stopped 31 shots to backstop the Lions into overtime. Seventeen seconds into the extra session, Daniel Ton-That’s shot from the right point deflected by the Santa Margarita goaltender and sent the Lions storming off the bench, gloves and sticks flying, as JSerra captured the CAHA High School Division 1A Championship at Great Park Ice.

“When Daniel was walking the blue line, I was just yelling at him to put it at the net because anything can go in,” JSerra assistant coach TJ Miller said. “Lucky for us, it went in.”

The title was the second California Amateur Hockey Association state championship for JSerra with the first in 2014. The Lions played in their first state championship game since 2016.

The win also qualified JSerra for the USA Hockey National Tournament. The Lions will travel to Cleveland for the High School Division 1 competition March 28-April 1.

“When you get there, you’re going to be playing teams that are a lot better than what we face on a regular basis,” JSerra head coach Jeff Noviello, who was suspended for Sunday’s game, said. “They’re just going to have to play for each other and do the little things to succeed.”

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Before JSerra can turn its eyes to Nationals, the Lions begin the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League Division 1 playoffs on Wednesday, March 6 against St. Mary’s of Stockton at Great Park Ice. JSerra is the No. 2 seed for the ADHSHL playoffs.

‘It’s almost impossible,” Noviello said of getting his team up for the league playoffs after a state championship, “but when you rally around playing for your school and your brothers in the room, they’ll find a way.”

Santa Margarita, who won the USA Hockey national championship last season, is the No. 1 seed for the ADHSHL playoffs. The Eagles have dropped all four games against JSerra this season. The two teams would not meet up for a fifth game until a potential ADHSHL Final on Saturday, March 9 at Great Park Ice.

JSerra and Santa Margarita combined for 11 goals in their round-robin game on Saturday, March 3 as JSerra earned another overtime win, 6-5. It was a very different result than the tight-checking championship game.

“I think it was more defensive,” Miller said of Sunday. “We were feeling each other out. A lot of goals in the game before, so both teams were trying to not give up as much.”

Through two periods, Santa Margarita was well in control with a huge shot advantage, 22-8, and the one-goal lead, 1-0. Marcus Kim put the Eagles ahead seven minutes into the first period.

Neither team could take advantage of their third power play each at the beginning of the third period, but it was JSerra’s kill of the Santa Margarita penalty that ended up turning the tide.

JSerra flipped the puck out of its own end as the penalty expired, and Max Lynch jumped out of the penalty box. Lynch won the race to the cleared puck and finished his one-on-one break to tie the game, 1-1, with seven minutes remaining.

“I came out, and I saw it sliding past his stick, so I grabbed it,” Lynch said. “I was getting hacked the whole way down. My only option was five-hole and I went for it. Turned out good.”

From there, JSerra found a little life. The Lions killed off one more Santa Margarita power play as the JSerra defenders sent their bodies to the ice in front of shots.

“That totally changed the game,” Ferletic said of Lynch’s goal. “We had a lot more enthusiasm, and it definitely fueled us into OT.”

It didn’t take long in overtime. The Lions won the left-side draw back to Jake Hager who sent the puck over to Ton-That at the right point. Ton-That threw the puck on net where it found a deflection by the Eagles goalie for the win and the state title.

Santa Margarita got the opening tally seven minutes into the first period.

Kim got the puck streaking up the right wing and snuck it high on the short side to put the Eagles ahead, 1-0.

Santa Margarita controlled the early portions of the game with high pressure to create rush after rush into the JSerra zone. The Eagles outshot the Lions, 11-5, in the opening frame.

In the second period, each team earned a pair of power plays. JSerra could never set up cleanly on their man-advantages, and Ferletic stood tall to deny Santa Margarita time after time. The teams were a combined 0-for-7 on the power play in the game.

At the end of the second period, Nathan Brunelle was hit hard from behind by Santa Margarita and stayed on the injured for a short while. He was helped off the ice and did not return.

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