Based on recent trends, Council Rock North coach Eric Tye likely expected that Thursday night’s season finale against National Division opponent Pennsbury would end up as a one-goal game. He probably could have guessed the precise score, too.
Coming into the finale, North had played nine games in 2012. Five of those games – including the previous two – had ended with a 3-2 score (with Rock winning four of them). In Thursday’s finale at Grundy Ice Rink, the Indians again came out on the winning end of a 3-2 game.
“We’ve had a lot of 3-2 games lately,” Tye said. “But this one is huge. I tell these guys all year, when we have a full team, I think we’re really good. We’re having a problem scoring goals … if we’re only going to score three goals each game then we have to play stingy defense, and we have been playing stingy defense.”
While the Indians are averaging 2.91 goals per game, they’re allowing a just 2.75. That stingy defense was on full display on Thursday, as the Indians used their speed, physical play and smothering defense to keep Pennsbury getting many shots on goalkeeper Hayden Richards through the first two periods.
Pennsbury was held to six shots in each the first and second periods. The Falcons’ only true scoring threat in the first came in the final seconds, when Richards stopped a Nigel Honegger shot on a 2-on-1, denied Honegger’s rebound, then defenseman Eric Ceslak blocked another rebound on an open net.
“I made the save and the rebound, then Ceslak helped me out on that one,” Richards said. “The defense is always back to help out. We’re not the highest-scoring team in the league, but we definitely play one of the tightest defenses.”
Richards came up big when called upon, particularly in the third period, in which the Falcons doubled their shot total with 12 shots on goal. With the Indians clinging to the one-goal lead, Richards stopped a slap shot from the point that was redirected by William Richards, then made a terrific save on John Thornton on the rebound.
“That’s the defense again,” Richards said. “Pennsbury had a deflection in front, the rebound came out and my defenseman got him in tight so he couldn’t lift it and I was able to slide over, get my paddle down.”
North, which trailed Pennsbury by two points in the standings heading into the finale, struck first when Colton Snow scored his second of the year when he knocked home the rebound of a Mike Heverly shot from the point. The goal, which came less than four minutes into the game, was the only tally of a crisply played period that saw North control the puck for much of the frame, though neither team saw many quality scoring chances.
“Our speed was a big key,” said North captain Mark McDonald. “Every race to the puck, we need to get there, and we won a majority of the races tonight.”
Pennsbury goalkeeper Ben Henning made a nice pad save early in the second period, and the Falcons evened the score midway through the stanza on a 5-on-3 power play. After making a bad mistake – throwing the puck into the zone with a man offsides – the Falcons cleared the zone and regrouped in the neutral zone to keep the play alive. However, with five players bearing down at the blue line, Luke Matthews intercepted a clearing attempt and blasted a slap shot past Richards.
The Indians responded with two quick goals later in the period. First, a Josh Gregov shot was deflected to Alec Greenhalgh in front, and the junior forward ripped the puck home with a defenseman draped all over him. Less than a minute later, McDonald found a loose puck at his feet in a scrum in front of the net and spun a backhanded shot that just eluded Henning’s outstretched pad and slid across the goal line.
“I had two or three whacks at it before I got it, it escaped me for a while,” McDonald said. “I was kind of clueless as to where it was, and I turned around and it was right there. I just threw it at the net without even looking and I turned around and everybody’s hands were in the air.”
The Falcons, who had little sustained offense at even strength, pulled back to within one of the power play less than a minute into the third period. Matthews, a right-handed shot, fired a low laser from the left side of the offensive zone. Richards got a pad on it, but not enough, as the puck trickled over the goal line to make it a one-goal game again.
“I wasn’t happy with the second goal,” Richards said. “But you’ve got to keep on course. The boys pick me up when I let a bad goal in. You pick each other up, you fight through the adversity.”
Pennsbury picked up the pressure in the third period, and with a power play late in the game, as well as an extra man when the goalie was pulled in the final 90 seconds, the Falcons made every attempt to knot the score. But the Indian defense held strong to maintain the one-goal advantage.
With the victory, the Indians end the regular season with two wins and a tie in their last four games. And that stingy defense has allowed three goals or fewer in nine of North’s last 10 contests.
“We’re playing good hockey,” Tye said. “Whether we win or lose down the stretch, we’ve been playing good hockey. That’s all you can ask of them. The main thing tonight was for us to win a game going into the playoffs.”
“They beat us 4-0 last time, and we weren’t very happy about that,” Richards said. “Getting that win tonight was huge. We’re getting hot at the right time. It was very big for us.”
“We’re rolling right now,” McDonald said. “That’s what’s going to give us momentum to go forward.”
And for a team that is no longer the offensive powerhouse it was several years ago, it shows that the team can get the job done when everyone does his job. The victory in the finale lifts North to a 9-8-1 league record, 12-10-2 overall.
“I was really blessed my first years here,” McDonald said. “I was a younger guy with the studs. We don’t really have those kinds of scorers now. Last year and this year showed me what they went through to get to that level, and that’s what I’m trying and all the seniors are trying to pass on to the younger guys.”
Council Rock North 1 2 0 – 3
Pennsbury 0 1 1 – 2
CRN – Colton Snow (Mike Heverly, Justin Fricke), 11:20.
P – Luke Matthews (unassisted), PP, 8:22.
CRN – Alec Greenhalgh (Michael Shander, Josh Gregov), 4:32.
CRN – Mark McDonald (John Humes, Alex Pontarelli), 3:33.
P – Matthews (Nigel Honegger, Craig Meschel), PP, 14:06.
Shots on goal
Council Rock North 7 13 8 – 28
Pennsbury 6 6 12 – 24
Saves: Hayden Richards (CRN) 22; Benjamin Herring (P) 25.