Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
It was that time of the season again for the Rocky River hockey team. And while it didn't go totally as planned, the Pirates still managed to take home some hardware.
After playing seven games in two different tournaments in a three day span, the Pirates took the ice Monday morning and turned away a determined Lakewood squad, 8-1, to reclaim the West Shore Conference Tournament championship at Hamilton Ice Arena.
It was the third win in as many WSC championship games for the Pirates, who were coming off a tough 2-0 Sunday night loss to Holy Name in the Walsh Jesuit Invitational at the Kent State Ice Arena. River had defeated Midview, Bay and Elyria Catholic to reach the WSC title game.
The Rangers, reaching the WSC finals for the first time, made it out of pool play and hung tough early with the play of its defense and senior goalie Hunter Nugent. But the Pirates, with a decisive 65-4 shot advantage eventually broke through to take control of the game.
"Obviously they've got some speed," said River head coach Chris Cogan, whose team dropped all four games played at Kent. "It was a long weekend, but we knew we had to come out, play hockey and play hard.
"We were getting pucks to the net, but defensively they were keeping us on the outside and weren't giving us a lot. They did a good job with that, but we still controlled most of the play in the first period," he said.
The Pirates got a power play opportunity early int he first period, but were turned away from the Nugent and the Rangers. River, keeping the puck in Lakewood's zone most of the morning, got on the board at the 6:28 mark when junior PJ Sperli scored off assists from Joe Weger and Jack Mallett.
The Pirates scored again with 5:44 left in the first period when senior Jack Gerlack found junior Pat Morse for the first of his three goals on the day.
"We came out of the first period only down 2-0, and we felt our defense was playing well," said Lakewood assistant coach Mike Wrost after the game.
"Our defensemen are our senior leaders on this team, along with Hunter," he said. "We thought if we could just play better position wise than we have in the past that we could try to limit their opportunities. I don't know how many shots they had in the first period, but being down 2-0 was a pretty decent accomplishment for us.
"We weren't running around out of position. We were trying to cover our men, and that seemed to work for us," her said.
But if there was any doubt at all about the game's final outcome, it was erased in the second period.
The Pirates got a pair of goals from Morse to give him the hart trick and put the Pirates in front 4-0. Freshman River Whitnable scored off an assist from fellow freshman Sumner Mead at the 4:37 mark to make it 5-0.
A breakaway goal by senior Michael Ittu with 38.1 seconds left in the period made it 6-0, River, heading into the second intermission. The Pirates made it 7-0 early in the third period on a goal by sophomore Matt Goepfert before the Rangers could finally crack the River defense.
With 5:33 left in the game, the Rangers averted the shutout when junior forward Nate Bonacuse scored off assists from junior Luke Walkush and senior Zach Moran. Another Weger goal in the final minute put the icing on the WSC cake for the Pirates.
"It was a long weekend, but it's the third year in a row that we've done it," Cogan said. "Most of the kids are used to it, but it's a totally different pace of the game coming from the Walsh Tournament and coming back here. But with that being said. we should be able to keep that pace from Walsh coming into this tournament.
"Today, I just wanted to see us continue the pace from where we left off last night: Moving the puck, getting it up ice and getting it going side to side. I think we did a pretty good job of that this morning," he said.
Despite the loss, Wrost said the Rangers enjoyed having the chance to play against the Pirates.
"They're definitely one of the premier teams," Wrost said. "If I remember correctly, we played against them in the sectionals last year.
"I think some of the kids have grown up and known each other through the associations as well, so they had fun. They wanted to play River. We got through pool play in order to get here, so that was our goal all along.
"We knew who we'd be playing if we got here," he added.
Cogan felt his team got some things accomplished despite the rough weekend at Kent. The Pirates lost 4-2 to Walsh Jesuit on Thursday night, 3-1 to Gimour Academy and 3-1 to Culver (IN) on Saturday and 2-0 to Holy Name Sunday night.
"Our first game there against Walsh, we lost by a goal, and it was open net," Cogan said. "We had a full five-on-three with four and a half minutes to go in the game, and they scored a short-handed goal. That took the wind right out of our sails, but we still had the advantage and couldn't capitalize on it. Then they got the empty netter.
"We're right there. We got a lot of nice things out of that tournament. Hopefully we'll learn from that and make a push into the Baron Cup and the state tournament," he added.
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