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State crown slips away from Mustangs

"Bad bounce" spoils hopes for a third straight championship.

Published March 31, 2004

A deflected rebound got in the way of the Springstead Mustangs' quest for a third consecutive state title.

In the tournament for Statewide Amateur Hockey of Florida, the experienced Mustangs rolled through two days of round-robin play at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum.

But in the title game Sunday against the Kissimmee Seals, a squad made up mostly of travel-team players from Orlando, a 2-1 lead slipped away late and an overtime goal ended Springstead's hopes.

"The kids lost the game not on a bad play, but on a bad bounce," coach Jim Fisher said. "They had nothing to hang their head about. The game could have gone either way."

Fisher had a tough time being too down about the championship loss given a season in which Springstead almost certainly had its best squad.

The Mustangs, whose players include Springstead and Central High students along with a few home-schooled students from Spring Hill, went 18-2-1 during the regular season and cruised into the playoffs.

A year ago, after moving up from Class C to Class B, the Mustangs needed a five-game winning streak at season's end to qualify for the playoffs.

No such run was necessary this year as the team sprinted into the postseason, starting with a 2-1 win last Thursday over Lakeland George Jenkins High for the state's West Central Combined Division Championship.

In the state tournament's opening games, Springstead continued to cruise. In their pool, the Mustangs beat Wesley Chapel 7-1, the Jacksonville Hurricanes 5-2 and 2001 state champion Daytona 4-0.

That perfect run landed the club in Sunday morning's semifinals, in which it beat Tarpon/Dunedin 5-2. The team's talented first line of Rick Nelson, Jimbo Fisher and Anthony Esposito combined for 13 of the squad's 21 goals, but just as impressive were the contributions of the other lines. Freshman winger Nick Kraese, to name one standout effort, scored his first hat trick against Wesley Chapel.

"The other lines really picked up the pace in the playoffs," Jim Fisher said. "The production off the bench was more than I could ask for."

Fisher also stuck with a plan to rotate goalies Nick Fernandez and Jeff Sullivan, and both excelled. In the title game, Fernandez held off Kissimmee during a power play at the end of regulation to send the showdown into overtime.

The players came out with black armbands in support of their coach and to remember his infant son, Patrick John, who died March 22 shortly after birth.

"They had me in tears," Fisher said. "They felt bad that they didn't win it, but each one made me so proud."

[Last modified March 31, 2004, 01:35:39]

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