Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
January 2, 2020
Short on skaters, the Kenston hockey team evened the playing field by working the long change to its favor against Solon during the host Comets’ holiday tournament on Saturday morning at Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills.
A situation in hockey that occurs only during the second period of the game, when the goaltenders switch ends to defend the net farthest from their bench, a long change forces players to enter and exit the ice from their offensive zone.
If players get stuck in the defensive zone for too long, they don’t want to leave their teammates shorthanded by making a run for the bench that is farther away, but, at the same time, tired players are not as effective.
But don’t tell that to the Ice Bombers, who only dressed 10 skaters and whose idea of rest for its star players is simply moving them from offense to defense, or vice versa, rather than making a line change.
So, after a 0-0 dogfight ensued between Kenston (7-9) and the host Solon puck-handlers (4-9-1) in the first period of Saturday’s clash, certainly, fresh legs appeared to be in the Comets’ favor for the long run at the first intermission. At the very least, a 6-0 victory didn’t seem to be in the works for Kenston.
Solon senior goalie Michael Nagy saved all 12 shots he faced in the opening frame, while Kenston four-year starter Jason Hildebran collected 11 saves for the bricks and mortar on his cage.
“I think we came out a little bit slow,” Hildebran said. “They’re our rivals, and every time we play them it’s a big game. And it’s a morning game, so we didn’t come out as fast. We just had to wake up a bit and really get out there and play.”
The Bombers took control in the second period, outshooting Solon, 12-5, and lighting the lamp four times behind a hat trick from senior center Val Carriero, the forechecking and power play of senior winger Tim Matty and the 24/7 defense of junior Paxton Phillips, who literally never exited the ice.
Not to mention, while Kenston was hammering the zone and taking full advantage of keeping the Comets on the ice for extended shifts because of the long change, Solon was whistled for interference and cross-checking penalties.
While Solon successfully killed off the first penalty, less than two minutes later Carriero picked up the rubber at center ice, on a pass off the boards by Phillips, and found space for a breakaway that he deked Nagy and finished stick-side for a 1-0 lead with 7:09 left in the period.
Carriero, who scored three goals during the Bombers’ 5-4 come-from-behind-victory against North Olmsted the previous day, got another breakaway against Solon that he ignited with an interception at his own blue line, before using his speed in open ice and slotting a lower tally to the glove side for a 5-0 upper hand in the third period.
“Usually I tend to go backhand on the left side, because that’s the way I skate up,” Carriero said of his breakaways. “But, if I’ve got the option, I’m going to make a move either way. As long as that goalie is out of the crease, I can get around him.
“And spacing really helps. When we set me back on D, I get a lot more spacing skating up the ice, and it allows me to catch speed quicker and get moving and get around guys much easier.”
In addition to Phillips’ 24/7 presence on the ice, Kenston freshman Chase Parker also played extended minutes on defense, while Carriero dropped back from center to play some defense himself and give Parker some rest. Although, Parker did move up and play some offense at times.
Meanwhile, Matty and sophomore Patrick Benjamin played the majority of minutes on the wings.
“That’s what we learned from the start of the season, is we all have to do our job,” Phillips said. “And that’s my assignment, to stay on the ice and do what I can. I try to pace myself, give distance and let them do all the work and then me stay back to help us out.”
Just 39 seconds after that 1-0 tally, Carriero struck again, going top cheese from the slot during an extended stay in the offensive zone, thanks to Parker and Benjamin’s hustle plays to use that long change against the Comets.
Benjamin and Parker’s handiwork provided another apple to Carriero, who five-holed a defender and buried another tally top shelf for a 3-0 lead with 2:05 left in the second period.
“Yeah, I went between his legs and then beat him on the back side and went backhand, short-side on the goalie,” Carriero said. “I knew his footing was off and he wanted to step up on me, and, as soon as he stepped up, I went right between his legs.”
Riding the momentum while they had it, the Bombers didn’t shy away from capitalizing on a power-play opportunity at the end of the frame.
Defenseman Phillips initiated an attack up the center alley from the defensive zone and worked the possession off wingman Benjamin, with the rubber getting loose backdoor for Matty’s man-up finish to the upper netting for the 4-0 advantage with 1:04 to go in the period.
“I just saw open ice, and I decided to take it, and I went as far as I could,” Phillips said about leaving his 24/7 post. “I couldn’t finish, but, luckily, Tim (Matty) was there to finish it for me.”
Matty scored again in the third period, off a hard shot from the right circle that hit off Nagy’s leg pad and trickled across the backdoor goal line before a Comet defender could clear it with 5:41 to play for the eventual 6-0 Kenston victory.
Kenston’s Hildebran is a proven netminder, but it was his first shutout of the season with 23 saves against the Comets.
“I knew, if we played to our full capability, that we’d come out here and sweep the floor like we did,” Hildebran said. “Whenever we’re not playing as well as we can play, that’s when I need to step up. And the first period, we weren’t playing as well, I stepped up, and then we came out and put some pucks in the net.”
Despite just a three-hour turnaround before the title game, the Kenston puck-handlers returned to the ice for another victory against North Olmsted, 4-2, to capture the tournament championship and extend their win streak to five games. Carriero recorded another hat trick, and Matty added another goal to his season total.
Carriero finished the four-game tournament with 15 goals, while Matty added six.
Up next, Kenston will return to Red Division action of the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League when the Bombers host Benedictine at 8:50 p.m. Friday at The Pond in Auburn Township.
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