by CHRIS CRUICKSHANK
The Rockford varsity hockey team went on a pre-playoff rampage last week, defeating Muskegon Catholic Central by a score of 5-2 and Grand Rapids Catholic Central by a score of 6-1. With victories in these last two games of the regular season, the Rams are riding a six-game winning streak into this week’s playoffs.
On Wednesday, Feb. 25, the Rams faced off against the Muskegon Catholic Central Crusaders, who entered the game on a nine-game winning streak. Rockford took command of the game early thanks to two first-period goals by co-captain Mason McGillicuddy. Travis Guest assisted on both goals and Tyler Carlson provided an assist on McGillicuddy’s second tally.
In the second period, the Rams found the back of the Crusader’s net three more times on goals by Cody Cantu, Mike Bieke (assisted by Phil Piiralla) and Andy Shira (assisted by co-captain Adam Hoard, and Guest – his third of the game). The Crusaders scored once in each of the second and third periods to post the final score at 5-2. Forrest Andrus split goal-tending duties with Christian VanPortfliet, and was credited with the victory, his 11th of the season.
On Saturday night, Feb. 28, the Rams finished off their league play for the year against the Grand Rapids Catholic Central Cougars. Cantu opened the scoring for the Rams when he fired in a rebound from linemate Bieke’s initial shot. Co-captain Dan Cruickshank notched Rockford’s second goal when he fired in a slap shot from the defensive point. The Cougars took advantage of a Ram penalty to score a power play goal to cut the lead to 2-1 heading into the first intermission.
In the second period, the Rams fine-tuned their precision passing game, resulting in goals by McGillicuddy (assisted by Hoard and Guest) and Hoard (assisted by McGillicuddy and Guest). Then Cantu scored his second goal of the game, assisted by Cruickshank. The goal was one for the highlight reel, as Cruickshank attempted to stuff the puck into the left side of the net, regained his rebound, and cut behind the net while being tripped by a Cougar defender. As he was falling, he scooped the puck in front of the net where the charging Cantu slammed it home, raising the score to 5-1 at the end of two periods.
However, the production line of McGillicuddy, Guest and Hoard wasn’t finished yet as Hoard notched his second goal of the game, assisted by Guest and Carlson to close the scoring. Guest’s assist was his third of the night and marked the second consecutive game that he earned three assists. Andrus earned his 12th win of the campaign as the Rams raised their overall record to 19-4-2-1 (W-L-T-OTL). The Rams’ final league record was 7-3-1-1, which earned them a second-place tie with East Kentwood, behind the league champion Mona Shores Sailors. The disappointment of a second-place tie is lessened by the Rams’ knowledge that they defeated the Sailors in both of their meetings this season.
The Rams pursue the regional championship on Monday, March 2, as they take on Grand Ledge, with the winner taking on the winner of the Lowell/Caledonia-DeWitt game on Wednesday night, March 4. Both the Monday and Wednesday games will be held at Patterson Ice Center. The regional championship game will be held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 7 at the Kensington Valley Ice Center, located near Brighton.