5-3, 4-2, 4-2, and 4-1. These scores represent the outcome of four losses in as many games in a two week window. The Rockford Varsity hockey team decided it was time to change that trend.
On February 2, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer traveled to take on the Rams at Griffs Ice House. The Rockets had every intention in continuing their undefeated streak with an impressive record (16-0-1), an average of 6 goals per game scored against their opponents, and allowing an average of less than two goals per game.
The Rams Senior netminder, Jake Rekucki would get the start in this Saturday night contest. In first period action, Rockford spent the majority of their time controlling the play although Reeths-Puffer had early chances to set the pace of the game. Just over five minutes into the period, Ram defenseman, Nick Larsen, would send a pass off the boards to teammate, Stephen Shira. Shira carried the puck into the Rockets zone and made a quick pass to line mate Trevor Mills. Mills worked his magic and left the Reeths-Puffer defenseman dumbfounded with a nifty move that froze him in his tracks. The Rockets goalie never stood a chance as Mills sent a laser shot over the left shoulder of the goalie into the back bar of the net. 1-0 Rams. Off the following center ice face-off, Rockford maintained their momentum getting the puck deep in the Reeths-Puffer zone. After a near missed opportunity with the puck sliding through the Rockets crease, a careless attempt to get the puck out of their zone, the Rockets defenseman unintentionally sent the puck right to Rams defenseman, Cam Bathum, who was waiting on the blue line. Bathum blasted a hard wrist shot the beat the goalie but hit a Reeths-Puffer defenseman standing just in front of the net. The puck dropped straight down to the stick of David Sokol who quickly put the puck in the net and put the Rams up, 2-0 with lots of game left to play. At the other end of the ice, Rekucki thwarted all nine Reeths-Puffer shots in the first period. Rockford was held to seven shots.
Like the Rockets goaltender, Rekucki had a busy second period. At the midway point of the period, Rockford’s Jacob Smyth won a face-off down in the Rams zone. Shira picked up the puck back behind the net to team mate defenseman, Brandon Perry. Perry sent the puck along the boards to Sokol who re-directed the puck to the middle of the zone and to the stick of a streaking Shira. Shira was nearly at full speed when he received the pass from Sokol which forced all five Rockets to do all they could to catch up. After his sprint down the length of the ice, Shira took aim and fired a low shot that the Rocket goalie was able to slow down but not able to stop giving the Rams a solid 3-0 lead. With an average of six goals scored per game, a very frustrated Reeths-Puffer team would take advantage of a breakdown in the Rams zone that allowed a Rocket forward to win a race to the puck in front of the Rockford net and send a shot just out of Rekucki’s reach and bringing cutting the Ram lead back to two. In all, Rockford managed a 2nd period total of 12 shots on goal. Rekucki’s play only discouraged the Rockets more by stopping all eight of their nine shots for the period.
Rockford carried their momentum into third period, wasting no time. Just over two minutes into the period, Rockford’s Zach Schwandt won a face-off to in the Rockets zone to the right of their goal. Schwandt took the puck down below the goal line with two Reeths-Puffer players in pursuit, sending it off the back boards. Rams forward Nate Rozegnal picked up the loose puck and circled back toward the net out from the right corner. Taking advantage of an open lane to the net, Rozegnal fired a quick shot on goal and beating the Rocket goalie over left shoulder. The remainder of the period was a hard fought battle in both directions. Both teams would see several power play opportunities but neither side could find the net with the man advantage. That is, until the Rams found it again. Welcome back senior and team captain, Nathan Hill. Hill returned from a pre-season injury, playing in his first game of the season. And he did so with fashion. On the power play, Hill scooped the puck out of the Reeths-Puffer corner to the left of the goal seeing Shira planted in front of the net with good position. Hill slid the pass to Shira who re-directed the puck on net only to be blocked by the Rockets goalie. The puck rebounded to open ice where Smyth was in perfect position to pick up the puck and shoot it into the netting to seal the deal of issuing the Reeths-Puffer Rockets their first loss of the season. Final shots on goal favored the Rockets who outshot the Rams, 28 to 25.
The Rams production of five goals from five different players and the solid goaltending from Rekucki was the right combination for this game. Confidence in themselves only grew stronger throughout this game, that was the difference. The Rams plan to carry that confidence as they are beginning to prepare to the final push of the season, as only a few weeks remain before the MHSAA State Playoffs begin. Stay tuned and visit www.RockHockey.org for all the details of the remaining regular season games and the playoff schedule.