It was good week for the Rockford Rams varsity hockey team. Wednesday, Jan. 18, they took on the Forest Hills Central Rangers. Just over five minutes into the first period, with the Rams on a power play, junior Cam Bathum lasered one past the Ranger goalie, who was well screened for the first Ram goal. Junior Jacob Smyth got the assist.
The second period began and less than two minutes into the period, junior Austin Cantu forced one past the goalie’s glove to go up 2-1 with the assist going to Bathum.
Rockford successfully killed off a few penalties, including a five-on-three, to preserve the lead with junior goaltender Jake Rekucki making some key saves along the way. Just before the end of the second, senior Ben Glass took advantage of a turnover with a nice fake on the goaltender to put it in the back of the net. Rams were up 3-0 at the second intermission.
As everyone knew, Forest Hills Central (FHC) was not going to give up, despite being down 3-0. Rockford continued to be battling penalties, but with one of the best penalty-killing teams on the west side of the state, they successfully killed them all.
Midway through the third period, the Rangers finally got one on the board. Rockford played solid defense the rest of the way to secure the win. Rekucki earned a great win, stopping 29 of 30 shots.
Three days later, Rockford took on one of the top teams from the east side of the state, the Lake Orion Dragons. Playing without one of the Rams’ top forwards, junior Nate Hill, due to injury, the Rams knew they would have their hands full against a team like Lake Orion.
Just three minutes into the first period, the Rams made their first statement with senior Keegan Knight driving home the goal off a rebound with Smyth and senior Justin Ullrey getting the assists. The first period ended with the Rams up 1-0.
Rockford came out looking to put more daylight between them and the Dragons, as they were able to mount a scoring chance at just two-and-a-half minutes into the period. This time it was Ullrey converting on the play with an assist going to junior Nick Larsen.
Todd Millar made some great saves in the second period, as the Dragons began to put the pressure on. With a couple minutes left in the period, Lake Orion was finally able to get one on the board. The score was then Rockford 2, Lake Orion 1after two periods.
The third period was played fairly evenly, with the Rams having a couple power play opportunities but unable to convert. It was, however, one of those power play opportunities that turned out to bite the Rams. After a turnover, the Dragons went two-on-one to put the shorthanded goal in the net and tie up the game.
With just over three minutes left in the game, the score was tied at two apiece.
When the final buzzer sounded, everyone knew this one was going to overtime—the fourth overtime game for the Rams this season.
Rockford apparently did not want to leave too much to chance, as they came out skating hard and, at just 30 seconds into the sudden-death overtime, Ullrey got one past the Dragons’ goalie to secure the upset win. Knight got the assist and the crowd went wild.
Junior goaltender Millar played very well for the Rams and got the win in net, stopping 43 of 45 shots.
Coach Van Portfliet said after the game, “The team is really starting to play well. We had a tough loss a week ago that for some teams may have affected them the next game or two, but our boys bounced right back with strong performances against FHC and Lake Orion. The past four games our seniors, Ullrey, Knight and Glass, have really elevated their game and made our team tough to play against. This one was a great win for Millar. I wasn’t sure how he was going to respond after the tough loss a week ago, but he showed a lot of character by working hard in practice and not dwelling on the last game. He was outstanding against Lake Orion.”
The Rams take on Mona Shores, Wednesday, Jan. 25 at Griff’s Ice House in a great league match-up game.