The sprint-to-the-finish schedule for the Wolves continued this past week with a series against the best team in the GLCHL conference – the Adrian College Bulldogs.
Thursday night’s 7-1 loss and Friday’s 7-4 letdown marked the fifth game in eight days and seventh in 15 for the Wolves since games resumed after the new year.
The Bulldogs, led by a large core of Canadian recruited forwards set the tone with their physical “in-your-face” hockey straight off the opening faceoff.
The Wolves answered back and matched them hit for hit on both nights, but they were still missing a portion of their physicality without senior John Vella and freshman Jeff Kuhary in the lineup.
“Vella is a huge loss in big rivalry games like Adrian”, said defenseman Chris Merrill. “He always gets under the other teams skin and gets their heads out of the game.” But beyond all the rough stuff, the Wolves were outmatched both nights in chances. And defensive breakdowns led to their demise.
On Thursday night, team captain Anthony Olson got the scoring started for the Wolves. Just minutes into the game the junior forward was able to skate out from the corner and get the Wolves up 1-0, rattling the home team in front of their fans. The Wolves used Olson’s goal to build momentum and continue to grind it out with the hard-hitting Bulldogs, but the score was tied at one heading into the break.
In the second period, the Wolves ran into penalty trouble, with Merrill being sent back to the box after a four-minute double minor earlier in the game. The Bulldogs scored on the power play and used their momentum to score a shorthanded goal just a few minutes later.
Missing from the Wolves penalty kill – and showing on the score sheet – was Kuhary’s penalty-killing abilities. Paired with junior James Marchese, the duo had been an effective penalty-killing tandem throughout the season.
“Kuhary is a workforce that can grind out tons of turnovers in the corners,” added Merrill.
The Wolves were never able to recover from the second-period breakdown, and the Bulldogs eventually went up six goals in the third. However, the game didn’t end without them making a statement that they wouldn’t be pushed around. Led by juniors Nezar Habhab and Ryan Arndt, they set the tone for Friday night’s rematch by grinding it out at every chance they got.
Friday night at the Fieldhouse, the puck dropped and the hitting began. Both teams let the emotions from Thursday night dip into the following day as they got to work early.
The goal scoring began after a missed call stunned the crowd. Senior Alex McDonnell was hit with a blatant knee-on-knee at the blue line in the Wolves’ defensive zone. The Bulldogs would eventually score just seconds later.
The Wolves didn’t let bad calls rattle them however. Just over a minute later, Olson and his line got to work and junior Jacob Poynter’s point shot found the back of the net with senior Rob Zubke screening the goalie.
But in a pattern that continued throughout the night, the Bulldogs would answer back quickly and regain the lead shortly after the tying goal.
The Wolves would get another spark from their big guns as junior Jase Paciocco won a battle in the neutral zone before flipping the puck over goaltender Louis Ronayne’s shoulder, tying it up at two and adding an unforgettable goal celebration.
In the second period, things got a little hastier for both clubs. Sophomore Cody Longuski was given a five-minute major for checking Kevin Sunde from behind. Sunde went hard into the boards and left the game with an upper body injury. Longuski was also sent to the locker room with a game misconduct.
Midway through the game, down two goals, the Wolves were able to tie it with two hard-working goals from senior Shawn Graff and freshman Ryan Kelly.
With the game tied at four, it was anyone’s game. But just like the prior night, the Wolves couldn’t stop the Bulldogs when they got going and the game ended after the visiting team scored three unanswered goals.
There were many positives despite the Wolves dropping two straight. “We just got to keep a positive attitude after the losses, come out with the same intensity and emotion we did in the second game, and we’ll be fine,” said Merrill.
The Wolves travel to Peoria, Ill., this week to play one of the best teams in the ACHA – Robert-Morris University Eagles. With the team ranked second in the ACHA Division-1 rankings, Merrill believes the Wolves will have their work cut out for them
“I expect a strong hard fought, grinding two game battle against RMU. They’re one of the top ranked teams and we’ll have to raise our game to another level to try and get that sweep.”
Want to cover one of the ACHA teams in the state? Email MiHockey editor Michael Caples at firstname.lastname@example.org