As loud as locusts and darting around like angry, ornery hornets, the opposition tried just about everything to crack the Loyola Academy goalie.
The Latin School of Chicago, fielding an unrelenting and incredibly talented first line, put together a full onslaught on Gabriella Ciesla.
The final seconds of the third period were played at a pulsating rate. It would have unnerved any hockey goalie with a pulse.
It should have ruined Ciesla.
But somehow, Ciesla — a mere novice at the goalie position — survived the perilous situation, including making a glove save with one second left in regulation to send the game into overtime.
You’ve heard of baptism of fire. This was more.
This was baptism by inferno.
LA coach Michael Glass faced a quandary prior to his team’s Amateur Hockey Association Illinois (AHAI) Blackhawk Cup state semifinal game at Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville on March 6.
His star goalie, all-stater Tianna Lavalle, came to the game on crutches with a lower body injury.
“She couldn’t practice last night [March 5],” said Glass. “So we had an inkling that she might not be able to go.”
Next girl up.
Meet reserve sophomore forward Gabriella Ciesla.
“We didn’t have anyone else,” said a relieved Glass, following his team’s exhilarating 4-3 victory, on Greta Skarzynski’s game-winner with 4:45 left in OT.
Had to go with the rookie.
Ciesla suited up in Lavalle’s No. 29 jersey — name on the back included.
“She had to wear it,” Glass informed. “It’s the only jersey that fits her. And she had to borrow goalie gear.”
Talk about finding your inner Lavalle.
Ciesla wound up being a masked marvel. The “identity thief” wound up stealing the show.
“I know she was terrified before the game,” said Glass. “But what a fearless kid. What guts.
“You were probably wondering why everyone on our bench was cheering every time she made a save,” mused the coach.
Ciesla let three in but ended up with 26 saves, including eight in that furious third period. Flanked by Skarzynski, Tess Dettling, Valerie Caldwell and Eleanor Kroeger, the highlight of her night was killing off a penalty late in the third period with an array of deflections and glove saves.
“She was awesome,” said Dettling, who finished the game with a hat full of assists (3). “She did a great job of keeping herself together.”
Latin’s trio of terror — all-staters Sydney Sorkin, Kendra Nealey and Audrey McMahan — came after Ciesla in torpedo-like fashion. They battered pucks at her from every angle.
Later on, outside the LA locker room, Ciesla got peppered some more — this time, by friendly fire. Reporters wanted to know her story.
“Coach calls me the ‘utility man,’ ” said Ciesla, still dazed but mainly amused by what had just unfolded on the ice.
In other words, the girl can do it all. The versatile Ciesla, who plays her club hockey with Chicago Fury, is a forward “by trade” but she also plays defense and had seen action in goal in “six or seven” league games.
Playing between the pipes during the regular season is one thing; being thrown into the epicenter of action in a do-or-die state playoff game is quite the opposite.
“I felt the pressure,” said Ciesla, fully aware of the burden of being the last line of defense. “I didn’t want to let my teammates down. They had my back tonight. I just wanted to make sure we got back to the United Center [for the state championship game].”
She was especially happy to come through for Lavalle.
“Being her for one night [wearing her jersey] … I wanted to make her proud,” said Ciesla, a Wilmette resident. “I wanted to do my best for her. I knew how hard this was for her not to be able to play tonight.”
An emotionally spent Ciesla will never forget Skarzynski’s curtain closer in OT.
“The second Greta scored, I started bawling my eyes out,” said Ciesla. “I was crying on the ice. Freaking out.”
Skarzynski’s winning goal was textbook.
Mademoiselle Clutch — a working pseudo name for Tess Dettling (check out her postseason play during the past four years) — gathered in a loose puck in the open ice at the left point and immediately went hunting for Skarzynski.
“I knew Greta could finish,” said Dettling. “I slid it over to her, and she slapped it in.”
The mad finish will stay with Dettling, who will play her college hockey at Yale University, for a while.
“I think that’s the most fun that I’ve had playing hockey,” she said.
Notable: This game was tense throughout. Latin opened the scoring on a goal by Kathryn Pohl with 1:44 left in the first period. Then, with .5 seconds left in the first, Greta Skarzynski tied the score on an LA power-play goal. … In period two, LA went ahead 3-1 on scores by Jenna Rekoske and Jayna Park. Latin answered with another goal by Pohl late in the second period and then got the equalizer with 8:59 left in the third period on Nealey’s goal. … Second-seeded LA, which defeated Lake Forest 5-0 in a state quarterfinal game on Feb. 24, will play No. 1 Glenbrook (22-1-2) in the state final at the United Center on March 17 at 3:30 p.m. Glenbrook beat Fenwick 7-0 in the other semifinal on March 6. … LA will go United Center as the reigning champs. It took runner-up honors in 2014 and 2015. … Glenbrook’s lone loss this season came against LA, 3-2, on Jan. 29. But Glenbrook returned the favor on Feb. 28 by downing Loyola 6-1 in the Scholastic Cup.