Saturday afternoon, Dec. 17, the Rockford Rams varsity hockey team hit the ice to take on the defending state champion, Grand Rapids Catholic Central Cougars. The Rams knew it would be a battle facing the undefeated Cougars, and it certainly was.
The Cougars came out with their fast-paced style of play and for a while the Rams had trouble dealing with getting the puck out of their own zone. Less than five minutes into the game, Catholic Central (CC) got on the board to give them a 1-0 lead. Both teams played an aggressive yet clean first period with only one penalty, which was on the Rams. The score at the end of one was CC 1, Rockford 0.
In the second period, the Rams picked up the intensity to match that of the Cougars and had a great opportunity for a goal when Ben Glass passed to the front of the net to Austin Cantu, but his shot was blocked just in time to save the puck from going in the net.
CC got on the board again in the second to put them up 2-0 with 13 minutes left in the period. With 8:36 left in the second, Rockford was fortunate to be on a five-on-three power play, but unfortunately was unable to convert.
Late in the period, with the Cougars up 2-0, CC was awarded a penalty shot. All eyes were on the exciting duel between CC’s captain Donald Sund and Rockford’s junior goaltender Todd Millar. Sund skated down and tried to stuff the puck in low glove side, but Millar denied him.
Seconds later, the officials got together and decided to award CC another penalty shot because Millar had left the crease early. The second attempt had Sund barreling down on the Rockford goal, this time trying high glove side and again he was denied.
The crowd went wild on the Rockford side and it looked like this might be the momentum changer. Both teams went to their locker rooms for the second intermission with CC up 2-0.
The third period had the Rams finishing up a power play. Just 10 seconds into the period, the Cougar goaltender mishandled the puck behind the net and Rockford junior Jacob Smyth got quick possession of the puck and stuffed it in the net to bring the Rams to within one goal. Assists on the play went to junior Trevor Mills and senior Justin Ullrey.
Unfortunately, that was the last of the highlights for the Rams on that afternoon, as less than a minute later CC converted on a wide open shot from the high slot to put them back ahead by two goals.
CC added a power play goal and an even-strength goal to finish the game for a final of 5-1. Shots on goal for the game were Catholic Central 42, Rams 19.
The Rams know what they need to do to compete with a high caliber team like Catholic Central, and they have some time to get those adjustments in place. The second and final meeting of these two teams will be in eight weeks.
The Rams’ next game is at their home arena, Griff’s Ice House, where they face the always tough Forest Hills Northern/Eastern team at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 21.