Kenston’s days of playing in the lower Blue and White divisions of the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League are a thing of the past.
The Bombers don’t have a Wayne Gretzky on their roster, such as Solon sophomore Zach Mandry, but what they do have are three solid lines, and arguably a fourth, all of which know how to find the back of the net.
With a 5-2 win against Solon on Saturday and a 6-5 victory against Westlake on Sunday, Kenston hockey finished league play at 9-1 – suffering only an overtime loss at Kent Roosevelt – and clinched its program’s first Red South title. Seven different players scored during those back-to-back triumphs.
“With this win, we’ve accomplished one of our big goals,” senior captain Alex Petre said following the victory against Solon. “It’s amazing. It’s our first Red Division championship.”
Petre is just one of three seniors on Kenston’s 22-player roster, and, with the way the Bombers have performed this season, they could be competing in the Red North Division next year among the likes of Rocky River, Shaker Heights, Hudson and Mentor.
Five years ago, Kenston competed in the Blue Division before getting bumped up to the White Division for the past four seasons.
When third-year head coach Tom Beard took over the program, Kenston only had 14 players on its roster. But with the continuing growth in numbers and talent, talk of possibly adding a junior-varsity program next season is part of the off-ice chatter.
The same cannot be said for Chagrin Falls, which killed its program this year, when the Tigers only had eight players returning from last season.
That said, Solon appears to have filled that void as the Bombers’ big rivalry. Despite the three-goal discrepancy, Saturday’s league game had nothing short of a playoff buzz to it.
“We always try to play physical but stay out of the box, which we’ve been having problems with a lot,” Petre said. “So we need to figure that out. But putting a body on them and not letting them score in the third period was big.”
Kenston finished the game with seven two-minute penalties, while the Comets were whistled for six. Nonetheless, there was only one power-play goal.
As time expired in the first period, Kenston’s Jack Javorsky threw the puck across the ice. It hit Petre’s leg and fell right down to his stick. He turned around and fired a shot into the back of the net for the man-up goal and the 2-0 lead.
It was Javorsky’s second assist of the game, as the junior defenseman used his ice vision earlier in the period for a rink-long pass to sophomore Jonathan Wiegand, who collected the puck and had no one to beat but Solon’s goaltender.
“That’s Beef Stick for you,” Wiegand said, referring to Javorsky. “I just cut right in the middle, I saw the pass coming, and I think, ‘I’m going to get pounded,’ but nobody’s there, and I was able to skate. I took a shot, got my own rebound and buried it, and I just went crazy.”
While Kenston led, 2-0, at the first intermission, Solon’s Mandry fired two shots that ricocheted off the goal posts, both opportunities coming off interceptions in the Bombers’ zone.
Kenston sophomore goalkeeper Kent Mack, who finished with 18 saves, said he got lucky on those shots.
“I’m pretty calm as a goalie, so it wasn’t that nerve wracking, but those ones that hit the posts frightened me a bit,” he said. “Mandry’s a great player, and it would have been a lot different game had those shots gone in.”
The luck evened out in the second period, however, as Kenston junior Sam Johnson and Petre both had shots that deflected off the pipes. With four minutes to play in the frame, Johnson again knocked on the door, as he took on a Solon defenseman at the wing, but the puck squirted out to Wiegand in the center for a top-shelf score at point-blank range.
Before the second intermission, Mandry cut the Comets’ deficit back to two, 3-1, when he received a feed from senior captain Mike Krenn and buried the puck under the stick-side armpit of Mack.
After killing a penalty to start the third frame, Kenston answered when junior Jason Kantra assisted sophomore Ryan Herpy’s low slap shot from just inside the blue line for the Bombers’ 4-1 lead.
“He’s just an all-around threat,” coach Beard said about Herpy. “He handles the puck so well in offense and defense. To see him score that fourth goal gives us a little more breathing room with pressure off our back. So he played tremendous.”
Kantra went on to collect another assist with 6:33 to play during a four-on-four opportunity when Petre tallied his second goal of the contest and dropped to the ice for a snow angel and a 5-1 lead.
With 16 seconds to play, Mandry opened up on a breakaway, and his rebound was picked up by fellow sophomore Alex Wu for the backdoor score, but Mandry’s momentum induced a head-first collision into the back boards, and he exited the game with a concussion.
With the win, Kenston locked up at least a share of the Red South banner.
The next day, on Sunday, the Bombers earned the outright title with their 6-5 victory against Westlake. Kantra scored the winning goal, unassisted, with just more than a minute to play. Johnson tallied two goals, while senior captain Danny Isakoff, Petre and sophomore Bailey Mulhern scored one apiece. Mack finished with 34 saves.
Up next, the No. 6-seed Bombers will face the No. 3-seed Hudson Explorers at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Brooklyn in the first round of the Baron Cup I tournament. The winner will face either No. 2 Shaker Heights or No. 7 Kent Roosevelt on Saturday. The final is slated for 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
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