Rockford hockey splits opening weekend

The Rockford varsity hockey team opened up the 2011-2012 campaign with a two-game set in Sault Saint Marie. Rockford is led by their three seniors, Ben Glass, Keegan Knight and Justin Ullrey. Despite having only three seniors on this year’s squad, it is widely believed that Rockford should have what it takes to contend for the OK Conference Tier One title this year.

Friday night, Nov. 18, Rockford hit the ice against the Lakeland Eagles. The opening two periods of play saw the Rams controlling both the time of possession and scoring chances. As the second period wound down, the Rockford crowd started to get nervous, as their opponent was able to hang around despite being outplayed, which can certainly be a recipe for disaster. Rockford continued to outshoot the Eagles at a pace of 19-9, but the scoreboard still showed a score of 0-0 at the end of two periods.

In the third period, it appeared that the Rams were tired of not converting on their scoring opportunities, as just two minutes into the period, Ullrey put the puck in the net with the assist going to Jacob Smyth.

Rockford continued to control the play in the Lakeland zone until about five minutes left in the game, when it appeared that they played more defensively. This allowed the Eagles to put some pressure on the Rams.

With 1:30 left in the game, Lakeland got possession of the puck and drove down the middle of the Rockford defensive zone, getting off a quick shot that slipped just inside the left post for the tying goal.

It looked like the game was going to go into overtime when, in the final seconds, a Rockford turnover resulted in a two-on-one scoring rush by the Eagles. Rockford junior goaltender Jake Rekucki was inadvertently upended by his own defender, leaving the net open for a shot from about 20 feet out that found the back of the net for a game winner with just 2.7 second left on the clock. It was a heartbreaking loss that certainly caught the Rams by surprise.

Shots for the game were Lakeland 14, Rockford 27. One amazing stat from this game was that the Rams beat the Eagles in face-offs to the tune of 48-14. Junior forward Nathan Hill was also awarded the Rockford Star of the Game.

The following night, Rockford took on the host team, the Soo Blue Devils. The Soo, coming off a 3-0 win the previous night against Big Rapids, bring a tradition of strong hockey for many years.

Rockford came out in this game determined not to wait long to get on the scoreboard, as just over three minutes into the game, freshman defenseman Conner Broderick got the Rams on the board with a shot just under the cross bar to put the Rams up 1-0. Broderick’s goal was assisted by Nathan Hill and Cameron Bathum.

Both teams played well through the first period, with the shots on goal finishing the period at Rockford 10 and Blue Devils 7.

The second period was a very tight defensive period with neither team giving up much in the way of scoring chances and neither team adding to the scoreboard. Shots on goal for the second were Rams 6, Soo 7.

In the third, both teams showed how much they wanted it by playing physical, yet smart hockey. At 5:20 into the third, Sault Saint Marie finally got on the board with a pass from behind the net to a driving forward that put the one-timer into the Rockford net to tie the score at one apiece.

Regulation time ended with the score 1-1 with both teams getting a two-minute breather prior to hitting the ice for the sudden-death overtime period.

Both teams had a couple scoring chances in the extra period, but it was Trevor Mills who finished the game with a great shot past the Blue Devils’ goaltender. Smyth and Broderick were credited with the assists on the game winner.

Junior goaltender, Todd Millar, turned away 25 of 26 shots in the game, earning him the game’s Star of the Game. Hill was also named to the All Showcase team as the Rams finished the weekend with a split and move on to the next tournament in Kentwood, where they open up against conference foe, the Buccaneers from Grand Haven.

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