By Ryan Kaczmarski
In a match-up of what team will stand on top of the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League Blue Central West division, the Lakewood Rangers shut out Bay 3-0 to give the Rockets their first league loss of the season on Sunday night.
“We went out there – the guys were moving their feet – and we kept the pressure on (Bay) in the (offensive) zone,” Lakewood head coach Josh Dress said. “Bay has good goaltending, so we kind of had a little problem cracking that. I would have liked to see a little more offense on the scoreboard, but I was pretty happy about how we were able to keep the puck in their end and keep the pressure on.
“We’re pretty happy with the effort.”
The Rangers (6-0-1 in league play) took the early 1-0 lead in the first period, on a power play goal by Nate Bonacuse (assisted by Chris Richardson and Colin Scheel) with 4:25 left before the first intermission. The second period went scoreless, with Bay’s defense stepping up and keeping the puck out of its defensive zone. The Rangers added their second goal with just more than five minutes left in the game, this time on a shot by Victor Dobos (assisted by Chris Richardson and Matt Johnson). Lakewood’s Jacob Gregory added a late empty-netter (assisted by Bonacuse) to finish the game with a 3-0 Rangers victory.
The shots on goal were just about even in the first and third periods, but the Rockets had almost twice as many shots as the Rangers in the scoreless second period.
“Sometimes we get caught up trying to set up the perfect scoring opportunity, when sometimes we should just be throwing more pucks on-net and looking for those rebounds – get those nitty-gritty goals.
“I guess, in the end, it worked out.”
The victory gives the Rangers a one point lead in the league standings over Bay, but with the tie against Brooklyn earlier in the season, every win is that much more important if the Rangers are to stay on top of the division.
“We’re doing well, but with that tie, every game counts at this point and every game is an important game, if we are going to try to get into the Baron Cup,” Dress said.
The Rangers’ starting goaltender Hunter Nugent was out for most of the season with an injury, but came back to action Friday night in the victory over Brooklyn. In his absence, Bonacuse took to the net and served the Rangers well, but Dress is happy to have Bonacuse back playing offense.
“He had a goal tonight, and an assist,” Dress said. “He generated some quality offense (Saturday night), actually scoring two goals, and before that he was our goaltender since the beginning of the season.
“He went back into the net and had a good record, only losing twice up until the Christmas tournament,” he added. “He’s had a great time goaltending and he’s come back and played well (on offense).”
Other key players for Lakewood to this point of the season have been Victor Dobos, Stephen Sorger, who just came back from injury, and Colin Scheel, who generates a lot of offense from his defensive position.
“Our defensive core is very strong, both offensively and defensively,” Dress said. “We’ve had a lot of guys who have contributed.
“Some of the newer players have been working hard and everybody’s been making a difference on the ice.”
For Bay (6-1), the loss knocks the Rockets down to second-place in the division. Bay has two key injuries on the team, with forward Jake Kirk suffering a broken collarbone at the Rocket Invitational, and Ben Hastings being out since the Avon tournament earlier in the season, but Rockets head coach Rick Kirk is not using the short bench as an excuse.
“When we get healthy, we’re a little bit different team,” he said. “The boys had an incredible effort tonight. The goalie (Tim Figueira) played unbelievably (well).
“When you’re playing against a team like Lakewood – they have a lot of players – you have to play a great game. With a light bench tonight – with some of our injuries it’s tough – but our goalie showed great effort, never gave up and kept working hard.
“Hats off to Lakewood.”
Bay has had many players step up their game this season.
“The leaders we’ve had – Jake Kirk, who’s injured, was a lot of our offense – Timmy Figueira has played great in net, Chris Gulley on defense and Jonah Held has really showed great improvement over last year,” Kirk said. “Held had four goals the other night and is really helping the offense.”
Both Bay and Lakewood are preparing for the West Shore Conference tournament, which will be played Jan. 17-21 at GCHSHL Red North East Division-leading Rocky River