February 20, 2013 - It was like the conclusion of a classic Hollywood script about an underdog team led by a first-year coach that climbed its way through the standings to capture its first-ever championship.
That was the scenario for the Mehlville Senior High School Hockey Club, which concluded its first championship season after knocking off Priory 3-2 last week to claim the Mid-States Founders Cup.
And it was a fight to the finish as it came down to the last period of the season for the Panthers.
Mehlville's Jacob Schaefer scored the game-winning goal, his second of the night, to break a 2-2 tie and propel his team to a one-goal lead that the Panthers held on to for the championship.
Mehlville head coach Jim Arno told the Call Schaefer seemed to have an edge over Priory.
"Jake's had Priory's number all year," Arno said. "We played Priory in a regular-season game and Jake scored two goals in that game, too. Jake's really performed well … He really got hot in the playoffs and put two goals in for us in the championship game."
Joey Parker scored the Panthers' other goal in the second period on a hard slap shot from just behind the blue line.
Arno said Parker's slap shot was a previously untapped resource.
"When I came into the organization this year, I just watched the kids play a little bit," Arno said. "And one thing I saw with Joey (Parker) that I didn't think anybody ever saw in the past is he's got a really heavy shot.
"So I told him, 'You get the puck across the blue line, just let it go,' and he cranked one from the blue line and it just went right through the goalie."
Going into its 23rd season as a Mid-States team, Mehlville had never won a championship.
As the new head coach, one of the first things Arno did was observe his players to determine their strengths and opportunities, and he elected to make two significant adjustments.
"The first adjustment, they never had a philosophy, they never had a system," Arno said. "So they had to learn a system and these guys adjusted to it and they learned how to play it quite well.
"The second was they had to keep their emotions in their skates and not on their shoulders. When I came into the organization, this was a very heavy penalized team, so we had to set a couple ground rules down and they adjusted to it."
Arno said it's gratifying as a coach to see his players gain confidence, grow closer together and mature throughout the season, but the most significant achievement was the players learning responsibility.
"They all became responsible as a team," Arno said. "I mean, you can only do so much in a tight game like that championship game was, and to watch them just to step up and take responsibility and win that period, the third period, showed a lot of maturity, a lot of guts …
"It showed that they truly finished the season as a team, and that was a far cry from where it was when we started out."