Hockey players change lines every chance they get for one simple reason – skating all out for the entirety of a contest is exhausting, especially when the puck travels from one end of the ice and back again in the matter of a few seconds.
So when Kenston and Orange clashed in the second round of district action on Saturday at the Kent State Ice Arena, it was a numbers game. The Bombers had 16 skaters, while the Lions had eight.
The big college rink only furthered Kenston’s advantage, head coach Tom Beard said.
“There’s a lot of ice out there and a lot of room behind the net,” he said. “So we wanted to just get the puck low, set up and look for the open man. Don’t try to force it. Just look for the open ice and find space. We did that today.”
After going one and done in the playoffs last year, Kenston controlled possession for the majority of Saturday’s contest, hounding Orange junior goalkeeper Greg Russell with 46 shots on target en route to a 3-2 victory. The Lions, meanwhile, got 19 shots off.
Kenston improved to 22-6-2 and advanced to play Walsh Jesuit in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Saturday. Orange ended its campaign at 14-11-2.
After the game, the first thing Kenston junior defenseman Jack Javorsky wanted to talk about was the performance of his opponents’ goalkeeper, who made some sick saves at point-blank range on odd-man rushes.
“Well, first of all, their goalie played unreal,” Javorsky said about Russell. “We had a lot of offense this game. As you can hear, we’re all pumped up.”
Javorsky’s teammates chanted, “U.S.A.,” repeatedly in the locker room after the win – the same day Team USA defeated Russia during an eight-inning shootout in the Olympics.
“This was just a great win,” Javorsky said. “This is the first time in a couple years that we’ve gone onto the third round of the playoffs. So it’s a big deal.”
Getting the scoring started, Kenston junior Jason Kantra found inside netting with the back of his stick off a rebound for the 1-0 lead in the third minute of the game.
The Bombers wanted to score a couple quick ones before Russell had a chance to settle in, Kantra said.
“Sam (Johnson) got a pass from Alex (Petre) and was coming toward the net from the dot, from the corner, and he just tried to stuff it in, and the rebound popped out to me,” Kantra said. “The goalie happened to be out of position, so I slipped it in stick side, and it worked out well.”
Later in the period, Kenston went on a power play but was unable to execute.
The Bombers then went on a penalty kill, and senior Alex Petre fired a short-handed goal into the cage for the 2-0 advantage with 2:22 to play in the first period.
“Jason (Kantra) gave me a great pass out in front to put it right through the five hole,” Petre said. “It’s always a big momentum booster getting the short-handed goal, because it knocks some energy out of your opponent.”
Despite having only three skaters come off the bench, the Lions battled to the whistle of the first intermission as lone senior Emory Butcheck crashed the net, picked up a loose rebound from sophomore Eli Newman and banged it home with 31 seconds left in the frame.
In the second period, the Bombers’ depth started to show with a 15-3 shots-on-goal advantage, but the score remained 2-1, even during a four-on-four coincidental penalty.
Javorsky showcased his on-belly sliding defense during Orange’s odd-man rushes, keeping the Lions from shooting low or finding backdoor passes, and allowing Kenston goalie Kent Mack to only worry about the top half of the cage at times.
“I don’t know where I learned that, but it’s a play that I’ve seen around, and it works, because it’s hard to get the pass across the ice, and it’s hard to shoot,” Javorsky said. “It’s very distracting to see a guy sliding on his stomach.”
The Bombers, however, knew two goals were not going to win the game, and that was the topic of discussion during the second intermission, Kantra said.
“We said we had to step it up, skate hard and keep getting shots on net,” he said. “Their goalie is pretty solid, so we had to work to capitalize.”
Twenty-three seconds into the final frame, Petre answered with a near-glove-side shot from the faceoff circle, assisted by Javorsky, for the 3-1 lead.
Less than three minutes later, however, Orange again answered with sophomore Gavi Sasson burying a far-post shot, Newman again collecting the assist, when goalie Mack was out of position from a previous save.
As the period ensued, the Lions’ legs were tanked and unable to produce offense late in the game for the 3-2 final, as the Bombers kept two bodies on Orange’s leading goal scorer, junior Evan Raupp, for the majority of the contest.
Kenston, meanwhile, had a solid non-box-score performance by sophomore Ryan Herpy, who moved the puck well as an offensive defenseman.
“It was a nail biter,” coach Beard said. “Twice they answered our two-goal cushions. They kept working hard to keep coming at us. The future is bright for their program.”