by CHRIS CRUICKSHANK
They say all good things must come to an end, and so it was for Coach Ed VanPortfliet’s 2008-2009 Rockford varsity hockey team. The Rams bowed out on Saturday night in a 0-4 loss at the hands of the Howell Highlanders. The loss left the Rams’ overall record at 19-5-2-1.
The Highlanders scored the first period’s only goal on a power play three minutes into the contest. The score stayed pegged at 0-1 late into the second period as the teams battled back and forth. Then with 5:25 remaining, the Rams’ wheels started to fall off. By the end of the period, Howell had exploded for three unanswered goals, and the Rams had imploded as they were whistled off for five penalties totaling an astounding 21 minutes in the penalty box.
The third period saw almost continuous action by the teams’ power play and penalty-killing teams, and less than two minutes of five-on-five hockey. Rockford’s only memorable moment of the period came when net-minder Forrest Andrus stopped a Highlander penalty shot.
So, at the end of it all, the scoreboard read 0-4, and the teams were exchanging hockey’s traditional handshakes at center ice. Meanwhile, in the stands, the parents of the 12 Rockford seniors were wrestling with lumps in their throats and tears in their eyes as the curtain was lowered to mark the end of their sons’ high school hockey careers and the end of a very successful season for Rockford hockey.
Rockford had advanced to the regional final by defeating Grand Ledge/Waverly 3-1 on Monday and DeWitt/St. Johns 5-1 on Wednesday. The Grand Ledge game was among the Rams’ best performances of the season. After a scoreless first period, Jake Chaffee scored a goal assisted by Robert Perry and Shea Mills. Then on a power play, Sam Gallup skated from end to end, weaving in and out of defenders, and slid it into the net for a 2-0 lead. Chaffee scored his second tally of the game when he fired in a rebound resulting from a collision between Gallup and the charging Grand Ledge goalie at the top of the circles. Grand Ledge spoiled Andrus’ shutout bid, scoring with only six seconds left in the contest. Even with that blemish, it was a great defensive effort by the entire team.
In Wednesday’s victory over DeWitt, Andy Shira opened the scoring in the first period, firing in an unassisted goal from the point. In the second period, the Rams added to their lead when Chaffee tipped in a shot fired from the point by Dan Cruickshank. In the first minute of the third period, DeWitt scored to cut the lead to 2-1. The Rams answered back with goals by Adam Hoard (assisted by Travis Whitfield and Cruickshank), and two goals by Mills, the first assisted by Noah Greco and Chaffee and the second an unassisted empty-netter to post the final score at 5-1. The win was Andrus’ 14th of the season.
Although the Rams’ playoff run ended sooner than they had hoped, it was a fine season marked by a number of firsts, including a win over arch-rival Kentwood, two wins apiece over league rivals Mona Shores and Grand Rapids Catholic Central, and a win over non-league foe Big Rapids. The Rams would like to thank their many faithful fans, many of whom made the pilgrimage to Brighton to cheer them on. And what a good season it was!