Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by Larry Bennet
On Wednesday night, the Rocky River hockey team returned to the friendly confines of Hamilton Ice Arena for its first home game since early December.
The home ice proved much to the Pirates' liking.
Rocky River jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, survived a five-minute major penalty in the first period and ran away with a 9-3 win over the Mentor Cardinals in an important Red North Division contest.
The Pirates ran their record to 17-1-1 and kept pace with Shaker Heights in the division race at 5-0-1. The Red Raiders go into their Friday night encounter with Holy Name with a 5-0-2 division record.
Mentor fell to 7-13 overall and an even 3-3 in division games. The Cardinals, who had dropped a narrow 2-1 decision at home to the Pirates last Friday, were looking to gain some ground.
But the Pirates, behind a pair of goals from junior Jake Mallett, grabbed a quick 2-0 lead in the first four-plus minutes of the game. His first goal came off an assist from fellow junior Cam Heider, his second on a rebound shot on the left side courtesy of Heider and senior captain Brock Riemenschneider.
The Cardinals got a golden opportunity to jump back into the game quickly when the Pirates were whistled for a five-minute boarding penalty at 8:44. But that proved to be a double-edged sword as starter Matt Madison was injured on the play.
Madison would not return to the ice. Mentor managed a quick power play strike off the stick of Ryan Posipanka just four seconds in, but Rocky River managed to kill off the rest of the penalty. Still, at 2-1 after one period of play it was anybody's game.
"It could have been a lot worse, absolutely," said Pirates head coach Chris Cogan of the major penalty. "We had a little confusion on the draw, and that's what went wrong on the goal. But yeah, after that first goal we did a great job of killing it off."
Cogan's crew moved on from there and began to build some momentum on the offensive end of the ice.
The Pirates scored at the 13:20 mark on a a gaol from senior Matt Forlini, who poked the puck past Mentor goalie Johnny Hagan from close range. Heider had his third assist of the game, while PJ Sperli got his first to give the home team a 3-1 advantage.
River made it 4-1 with 10:52 left in the period when senior Joey Weger scored off an assist from junior Pat Morse. Mentor answered 51 seconds later with a Matt Detering goal, the assist going to Posipanka
But the Pirates tacked on two more goals for a 6-2 lead going into the second intermission. Junior Matt Lowry rifled a slap shot past Hagan from the far right wing, with Heider getting his fourth assist. Senior captain Logan Drell joined the scoring barrage with a short-handed goal off a pass from Lowry.
At that point, the game had shifted decisively in the Pirates' favor. The statistics proved as such, with River having a 42-5 shot advantage.
"We did give up two quick ones, and then we battled back," said Mentor head coach Paul McKito of his team's opportunity in the first period.
"The five-minute power play helped us and we clawed our way back in it," he said. "We came out in the second period, got back on our heels again and gave them a couple of quick ones. We tried to battle back, but it seemed like they were skating downhill against us the whole game.
"We really have about two lines, and they're rolling out four lines all night. It's hard to match up that way when all of their top players are all rested and your guys are going out there every other shift," he said.
McKito also felt his team was hurt by the absence of Madison.
"Matt's one of our top five scorers," McKito said. "He's a big role player on our team. He's a hard worker. Without having him out there, for a lot of reasons, it just took the wind out of our sails.
"A lot of our kids know he's vital to a lot of our success. When he went down, it kind of affected us emotionally too," he added.
River game out in the third quarter and got another quick strike as Sperli spun to his left with the puck and zipped it into the net for an unassisted goal at 13:45. Mentor answered with another Posipanka goal, but goals by Drell and Heider put away win number 17 for the Pirates.
"We had some spurts, but it felt like we kept getting hemmed up in our zone," McKito said. "When you're in your zone for 30-45 seconds at a clip, you've got to skate hard and work hard. It tires you out playing defense.
"It's a lot easier playing offense where you know where the puck's going as opposed to trying to guess what happens next," he added.
What happened for the Pirates was their second-highest goal output of the season. They scored a 10-0 win over Olmsted Falls in the second game of the season, an 8-1 win over Strongsville in the season opener and an 8-1 win over Fairview (PA) in the Lake Catholic Holiday Tournament.
"It was good to see some more guys get into the action and put some more goals on the board for sure," Cogan said.
"Our transition game was pretty smooth tonight. We worked a lot on that in practice this week. We did a nice job of spreading out, taking different levels and moving the puck up the ice. That helps when you're hitting somebody up ice and in stride. It really helps getting into the zone with some speed," he said.
Cogan also said he was pleased with the added production out of his second line.
"I thought our line of Sperli, Mallet and Heider were great today," he said. "Mallet had a couple of goals, Sperli had at least one and Heider put up some crazy numbers. They stepped up and made it happen while they were out there."
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