Most coaches would shy away from discussing impending milestones. Not Westmont Hilltop hockey coach Art McQuillan.
While the Hilltoppers’ bench boss was not looking forward to his 500th win for personal reasons, when Friday’s 5-0 win over the South Park Eagles sealed the milestone at Ice Castle Arena, McQuillan was as pleased for the program as his assistants, players and well-wishers of the team were for him.
“This is more of a milestone for our program, because of the efforts of the players over the years,” McQuillan said. “The number of wins aren’t necessarily the criteria for success, but it’s the dedication of our students. They’ve brought that year after year. That, I think, is the most important.”
McQuillan, who played for Westmont before taking his skills to Penn State, took the helm of the program in December 1987, guiding the perennial Class A power program to a Penguin Cup title in 2003 and a Penguin Cup final appearance in 1998.
Through the years, McQuillan has coached his younger brothers, Bryan and Kevin McQuillan, along with his son, Cullen, on the current varsity squad, and Lane, who is playing for the middle-school club. He’s also coached seven nephews along the way at his alma mater.
“We’re proud of the tradition and history that we’ve built here,” McQuillan said. “I’m incredibly blessed to have the support of my family and the Westmont administration. It’s a special thing to accomplish this at the school I graduated from. I’m privileged to be their coach.”
For Cullen, just being able to dress on Friday and take on a very abbreviated shift despite an injury suffered during the Hilltoppers’ trip to Toronto last weekend, was a special moment made even more so when Cullen presented his father with a banner commemorating the 500th win.
“I knew tonight was going to be special for him,” Cullen said of his father’s milestone night. “I was going to come no matter what, but I knew that dressing would mean more to him than just coming out. I could see in his eyes that he was really happy with me handing him the banner and puck.”
The Hilltoppers tilted the sheet to the Eagles’ end of the ice through the entire first period, carrying a 13-1 edge in shots on goal through the scoreless period.
It wasn’t long into the second period before Westmont Hilltop solved South Park goaltender Sam Walker. Brandon Leech’s unassisted shorthanded flutter-by shot from the point opened a run of four Hilltoppers goals in the span of 6 minutes. With 13:48 left in the frame, Leech struck again from just inside the blue line with assists from Michael Lamison and Adam McQuillan.
At 10:23 remaining in the second, Jonas Kresak slipped a puck past Walker with the assist credited to Ty Rickabaugh.
Rickabaugh and Timothy Smith conspired to help Lamison push the Westmont Hilltop lead to 4-0 at 9:56 remaining, just 27 seconds after a South Park timeout.
Stephen DeMarco’s breakaway goal – set up by Austin Crespo’s neutral-zone feed – late in the third period placed the cherry on top with 1:45 remaining.
Before DeMarco’s goal, the Hilltoppers warded off a 5-minute major that included 2 minutes of a 5-on-3 disadvantage.
While the majority of the Eagles’ 15 shots on net came during the late-game power-play, goaltender Sebastian Ragno was up to the task, snaring a number of South Park shots to preserve the shutout.
“It’s an awesome accomplishment,” Ragno said. “The boys played awesome in front of me. For Coach Art, it’s awesome to be a part of this and to help him get his 500th.”
All in all, the win showed Art McQuillan that his team is still progressing as the Hilltoppers reach the meat of their schedule.
“As long as we keep building as a team and growing as a team,” McQuillan said. “That’s what we’re looking to accomplish.”
Shawn Curtis is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/shawncurtis430.