After a win and a loss in the previous weekend tournament in Sault Ste Marie, the Rockford varsity hockey team knew that scoring only three goals in two games would need to be improved coming into Kentwood’s Annual Falcon Classic Thanksgiving tournament at Kentwood Ice Arena.
Friday night, Nov. 25, Rockford faced the Bucs from Grand Haven. A high-paced first period ended scoreless as Grand Haven outshot the Rams 13-7 with junior goaltender Todd Millar turning away all Grand Haven attempts.
One minute into the second period with Grand Haven attacking, the Bucs were first to find the scoreboard. A rebound off Millar’s pad was redirected to a Grand Haven player, who put the puck into the net to put the Bucs up 1-0.
A Rockford penalty two minutes later put the Rams at a disadvantage against a solid Grand Haven power play. With only eight seconds left before the penalty expired, the Bucs tallied again with a hard shot from the point past Millar.
Penalties continued to send both teams to the penalty box throughout the second period. The Rams took advantage of one of Grand Haven’s infractions with just under seven minutes to play in the period. Rockford junior Nate Hill battled to gain control of the puck to the right side of the Grand Haven goal. A quick shot from a tough angle was enough to catch an unsuspecting goalie off guard, as the puck deflected into the goal and put the Rams back within one.
Rockford’s penalty woes continued and, with 36 seconds left in the second period, Grand Haven’s power play struck again. Rockford headed to the locker room down by two goals. Grand Haven’s momentum in the period was apparent, as the Bucs outshot the Rams 18-5 in the second frame.
Going into the third period, two things were certain to gain control of this game. Stay out of the penalty box and get shots on goal. A Grand Haven penalty near the midpoint of the final period allowed Rockford to capitalize on the power play. Sophomore Trevor Mills gained control of the puck near the Grand Haven goal line and sent a perfect pass in front of the net to Hill, who sent the puck past Grand Haven’s goalie. Rockford continued to control the third period, outshooting the Bucs 10-3, but unable to get anything past their netminder, ending the game 3-2 Grand Haven.
Saturday afternoon, Nov. 26, the Rams drew the Rangers from Forest Hills Central. A slow start by both teams led to a scoreless first period as Rockford outshot Forest Hills Central 9-7. Rams junior goalie Jake Rekucki denied all Ranger shots.
The Rams were a much more determined team starting at the drop of the puck in the second period. One minute in, Rockford junior Jacob Smyth found the netting over the Rangers’ goalie to get the Rams on the scoreboard. Assists went to senior Justin Ullrey and Hill.
A minute-and-a-half later, the Rams went up by two. Rockford junior Hunter Angus won the face-off to junior Blake Erhardt, who took a quick shot on net. Erhardt’s shot was stopped by the Forest Hills goalie, but the rebound was all that Rams junior Mark Cruickshank needed to finish the job and put the Rams ahead 2-0.
A mere 18 seconds later, Rockford’s Justin Ullrey found himself on a breakaway after a Forest Hills Central defenseman misplayed the puck. Ullrey’s quick shot beat the Rangers’ goalie and extended the lead to 3-0.
Rockford continued to carry the momentum of game throughout the period. A Ram penalty with 10 minutes to play in the period did not slow the Rams’ offense. Senior Ben Glass gained control of the puck inside Ranger territory. Forest Hills Central defensemen were unable to stop Glass as he left a sprawling goalie trying to figure out how the puck was in the back of his net and down 4-0.
With 5:30 left to play in the period, Forest Hills Central found a way to get through Rockford and put the puck past Rekucki, making the score 4-1.
The Rams weren’t done yet. With less than five minutes to play in the period, Rockford put their power play to work again. Rockford’s Hill sent the puck back to Ram junior defenseman Cam Bathum, who fired a rocket at the net, where Mills was able to redirect it past the Ranger goalie. This was Rockford’s most productive period of the young season, with five goals and outshooting the Rangers 14-6.
A third-period Rockford penalty just 26 seconds in allowed Forest Hills Central to strike again. At 13 seconds into the penalty, a Ranger defenseman took a quick shot on net from just inside the Rockford zone and beat Rekucki to bring the score to 5-2.
Less than four minutes later, the Rangers tallied again from a pass behind the net to quick Ranger shot in front. Forest Hill Central outshot the Rams 13-8 in the period, but it wasn’t enough, as the Rams held on to the 5-3 win.
The Rams face off Saturday, Dec. 3 at 5 p.m. against conference rival East Grand Rapids. The game is at GR-Edge Arena (formerly South Side Ice Arena), 500 100th Street SW, Byron Center. See www.RockfordHockey.org for the full season schedule, or watch for it in an upcoming issue of The Rockford Squire.