ANTIOCH – The Pope John Paul II hockey (8-7-3, 19 points) team nearly pulled off the improbable Monday night at Ford Ice Center in Antioch.
Down 6-2 in the final period, and without leading scorer JT Ernst who was sidelined with an injury, JPII tallied three straight goals in a four-minute span, but ultimately fell 7-5 to Centennial-Page (10-6-2, 22 points).
“I felt we were lucky to be in the game at the end,” JPII coach Justin Clark said. “We didn’t play a full game and we were very inconsistent tonight. We turned it on and turned it off. (Centennial-Page) is a good team with some excellent players and we can't turn it on and turn it off against them when you’re trying to score goals. We had a couple chances to tie it up, but it just wasn’t a complete game.”
In an action-packed first period, JPII evened it up a little over two minutes into the period when Noah McGuire beat Centennial-Page goalie Theodore Strunce to make it 1-1.
In the closing minutes of the first period, Tanner Watkins tallied on the power play to push Centennial-Page back into the lead 2-1. In the second period, an Ethan Duffy goal put Centennial-Page up 3-1, however, Tommy Chunchukov pulled JPII to within 3-2 before the period ended.
In the third period, things began to get out of hand for JPII. Centennial-Page rattled off three more goals for the 6-2 lead, and Ernst was struck in the shin with a slap shot, knocking him out of the JPII lineup for the rest of the game.
“Other guys fill holes and were eager for ice time,” Clark said on the Ernst injury. “He’s obviously a very talented player and we could have used him, but we had to have the next man up.
“We had some guys step up and put some goals in. Hopefully it’s nothing major and he’ll be back next week.”
As things looked bleak for the Knights, Dylan Guy tallied an unassisted goal to show signs of life in JPII with five minutes left. Two minutes later, Connor Bennett took a Jacob Harrison pass and buried it past Strunce to pull JPII to within 6-4.
The Knights wouldn’t go quietly, as Chunchukov struck again with 1:40 left in the game to close the gap to 6-5 and give JPII hopes of pulling off the improbable comeback.
However, with just two seconds left, Centennial-Page drove the nail in the coffin with an empty-net goal for the 7-5 win as JPII pulled its goalie for an extra attacker.
“I hope it’s a learning experience,” Clark added. “It’s going to take complete period of hockey and complete games to be successful against good teams. We can't take shifts off and be successful. Hopefully it’s a learning experience, and hopefully next week we don’t do that again or we will be going home early.”
Starting goalie Jackson Cook stood tall in the first two periods, stopping 22 of 27 shots before being lifted in the third period. Backup Eric Newman stopped 4 of 5 shots in relief.
With the loss, JPII will enter the GNASH playoffs next week as the No. 7 seed. The playoffs begin next Monday, Feb. 11.
“We’ve had some good runs in the playoffs the last few years,” Clark said. “So hopefully, the older players can draw on that experience and we can put it together.”
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @mpatrickg5