Thomas' game-winner lifts Lafayette past Vianney in Challenge Cup semi

Thomas' game-winner lifts Lafayette past Vianney in Challenge Cup semi

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MARYLAND HEIGHTS — Lafayette defenseman Jack Thomas says he approaches every game the same way.

While his approach might not waver, his results have.

Thomas, who didn’t score a goal in the regular season, leads the Lancers with five in the postseason. His latest tally might be the biggest as it proved to be the game-winner in a 3-1 win over Vianney in Game 1 of a best-of-three Mid-States Challenge Cup semifinal series on Saturday at Centene Ice Center.

“I think I'm just getting the puck to the net more really,” Thomas said. “My forwards are finding me and I'm just putting it out there and they're screening and it's going in. I don't really know how to explain it.”

Lafayette coach Jim Carrico has a theory on Thomas’ success.

“He's playing his butt off and he's putting pucks on net, and he's doing what we're expecting,” Carrico said. “He's playing 35 to 40 minutes a game and he's been fantastic for us.”

Sam Rubenstein and Justin Sprague also scored for Lafayette (14-10-3). Konner Canova made 24 saves.

Joey Boccardi scored and Nicholas Niemeier made 13 saves for Vianney (18-8-1).

Thomas’ power-play goal with 4:32 left in the second period snapped a 1-1 tie. Thomas blasted a slap shot from the right point that found its way through traffic and into the net.

“It was a huge momentum shift,” Thomas said. “I got it to Patrick (Johnson). Patrick got it to me. … and I just shot it on net.”

Canova helped make the lead stand with 11 saves in the second including one on a Carter Eifert chance midway through the period. He also got some help late as Boccardi rang a wrister off the right post.

“Connor has stepped up and he's as calm and cool as he can be,” Carrico said. “Nothing seems to rattle him.”

Sprague made it 3-1 Lafayette at the 1:25 mark of the third period. Sprague corralled a bouncing puck at center ice and showed off a quick wrist shot for his third goal of the playoffs.

With the lead, Lafayette relied on its defense and Canova the rest of the way. The Lancers allowed just five shots in the third period.

“We always were able to clear it and get it out, and then the defense was able to push away all the screens, so it's always nice to see the puck and if I see the puck I will stop it,” Canova said.

Rubenstein gave Lafayette a 1-0 lead with 8:09 left in the first period. Rubenstein found the puck amid a scramble in front of the Vianney net for his team-leading fifth goal of the postseason.

Boccardi evened the contest with an unassisted power-play goal at the 2:46 mark of the second period. Boccardi showed off some slick stick-handling while driving to the net before slipping it under Canova’s pad.

A quick glove by Niemeier saved the Griffins from giving up a short-handed goal 33 seconds earlier, after the puck deflected off of a Vianney defender right in front of the net.

“I saw us get outplayed in every area on the ice, that's what I saw,” Vianney coach Brian McGlynn said. “They’ve got a good hockey team over there. They came up big and we’ve got one more chance that's about it.”

Lafayette isn’t taking anything for granted heading into Game 2 next Saturday.

“I'm expecting a very upset and a very fired up Vianney team to come out and a much different attitude than they showed up tonight, so we have to be ready for them,” Carrico said. “I think you're going to see a different Vianney team next Saturday.”

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