Everyone contributes in three winning efforts.
It’s no secret that this Wildcat hockey team knows how to win. The team is full of returners who have been successful in big games, and their efforts are starting to rub off on the newcomers. The Wildcats entered the weekend 2-0 and had three of the best teams Michigan has to offer awaiting them at the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Thanksgiving Showcase. St. Mary’s was an excellent host with great facilities and a beautiful campus. Their rink staff was top-tier and accommodated the team and broadcasters very well.
After the bus ride and a quick trip to the hotel, the Wildcats stepped off the bus to face a formidable U of D Jesuit team. The Cubs entered the contest with a 2-1-0 record early in the season.
The Wildcats started the scoring four minutes into the contest after the relentless Blue and Gold would not let the Cubs get out of their defensive zone. Erik Galauner cycled a puck behind the net and made a backhanded pass into the slot. Cam Kurtz one-timed the pass from Galauner past the goalie and under his glove for the opening tally.
“Erik got the puck and brought it around the net,” said Kurtz. “[Erik] gave me a nice pass in front and I was able to tap it in.”
Eight minutes of back and forth action passed in the first period without score. In that time, the play of defensive pair Clay Gazdak and Charlie Erbs shined as the seniors traded blocks and clears. Zak Kovatch also made a huge save on a 2v1 rebound.
As the Wildcats made another stand in the defensive zone, Michael Boehm made a stretch pass down ice to Alex Bilardo. The senior beat a defenseman wide, which created a 2v1 where he was aided by Rory Zawadzki. Bilardo snapped a shot from the low circle that was deflected off the defenseman’s stick towards Zawadzki. Zawadzki finished on the blocker side of the net to extend the lead.
“Al was driving towards the net and his shot got blocked,” said Zawadzki. “I put the rebound over the goalie’s shoulder.”
The Cubs cut the deficit in half as time dwindled in the first. UD-Jesuit chipped the puck into the zone and chased it down. A shot came from the corner and Kovatch paddled it away with his stick, but the shot deflected to an uncovered Cub who finished his opportunity.
The Wildcats came out of the locker room firing in the second period.
Saint Ignatius held constant pressure early in the period. The efforts of the Wildcats were rewarded five minutes into the middle frame. Michael Boehm sent in a shot from the point and Christian Radke fought for the rebound. Radke slid a pass to Danny Cook amidst the chaos. Cook backhanded a pass from the circle to a cutting Chuckie Wilson. Wilson released a quick shot on the open blocker side for a goal.
Chuckie Wilson is a name Wildcat hockey fans will come to learn quickly. Wilson leads the team with 6 goals after this weekend.
Under 90 seconds later, Nathan Klinge dumped the puck into the offensive zone. The Cub goaltender stopped the puck behind the net and gave it to his defenseman. Aidan Millett battled alongside Cam Kurtz to win the puck loose. A Millett pass to Kurtz did the job as Kurtz sent it in front of the net. Galauner, wide-open in the slot, caught the pass and ripped it high glove side.
“Millett and Kurtz were working hard down low behind the net,” said Galauner. “The other team didn’t notice me in the slot and Cam made a nice pass for me to one-time in.”
The teams battled back and forth through the middle minutes of the period. Zak Kovatch and his penalty killers had an error-free two minutes as well.
The Wildcats were not as successful on a following penalty kill. An attempted clear went awry after the clear hit off the head of a Wildcat forward. Once the puck stayed in the zone, a shot from the point was redirected in front and past Kovatch.
Kovatch would make another huge save, as he stuffed the shooter with his pad on a crease-sliding across ice shot.
The Cubs scored a goal similar to Galauner’s. A cutting defenseman had time and space right in front of Kovatch and popped it.
After two periods, the Wildcats led 4-3.
Twenty seconds into the third period, the Wildcats sent a puck into the offensive zone. The Cubs’ goaltender tried to stop it and Aidan Millett rushed in. Millett stole the puck and sent it to Erik Galauner. The junior had an open net all to himself and gladly accepted his second “gino” of the ballgame.
“Millett made another great effort,” said Galauner. “Those goals are the hardest to score because you know your buddies will be making jokes on film if you miss them.”
The Cubs added a power play goal which brought the score within one.
The final tally of the game came with seven minutes left. A well-setup Wildcat powerplay produced a scrum in front of the net. After several shots, Camden Kurtz beat the goalie blocker side.
“We were on the powerplay and we were getting a lot of pucks on net,” said Kurtz. “There was a lot of traffic in front and I buried a rebound off a shot.”
The Wildcats’ defense and goalie Zak Kovatch withstood an extra attacker play from UD-Jesuit.
Despite not playing their best game of the season, the Wildcats survived the contest with a potent offense and good defense when it mattered most.
Zak Kovatch made 25 saves in the winning effort for the Wildcats.
The second matchup of the weekend came Saturday morning. The Wildcats played Grand Rapids Catholic Central, a top team in the Upper Peninsula.
Aidan McLaughlin made his first career start for the Wildcats between the pipes, as Zak Kovatch would play the later game Saturday night.
Erik Galauner dumped the puck into the offensive zone four minutes into the contest. Galauner chased his dump and was joined by Alex Bilardo. Bilardo won the puck behind the net and made a pass to Galauner who found Rory Zawadzki cutting in. Zawadzki finished Galauner’s pass.
“I was the high guy on the forecheck,” said Zawadzki. “I saw we got the puck and snuck down and finished the rebound.”
The Wildcats pressured the Cougars and continued their offensive prowess.
Charlie Erbs forced a neutral zone turnover and cut into the offensive zone on the circle. Erbs made a pass through the slot to Rory Zawadzki. The veteran put the puck off the back bar and clearly in the net but no goal call was made, so Matt Sullivan made a smart hockey play to bury it in the open net anyways.
“I just tapped in the rebound for an easy goal,” said Sullivan.
McLaughlin stayed strong between the pipes in the few chances he was given in the first period.
The Wildcats came firing out of the locker room in the second period for the second day in a row.
Clay Gazdak dumped the puck into the offensive zone and Matt Sullivan and Rory Zawadzki chased after it. Sullivan won it loose on the boards and made a pass to Zawadzki. Zawadzki, who was cutting off the wall towards the top of the circle when he received the pass, went high over the blocker for his second tally of the game.
“Sully made a nice pass to me,” said Zawadzki. “I walked from the corner and put it short side.”
After a quick icing, the Cats took possession in the offensive zone. The Wilson-Cook-Radke line again went to work. After Radke and Cook kept forcing rebounds, a puck bounced to Chuckie Wilson. Wilson hammered it home glove side for his first of two goals in the game.
A full 17:10 went by scoreless. The Wildcats dominated possession of the puck and also killed one penalty in the span.
Chuckie Wilson continued his great day in the third period. Danny Cook produced a neutral zone turnover that bounced to Aidan Conway. The junior made a hard pass into the offensive zone that found Wilson in stride. Wilson released a hard snapshot that beat the goalie five hole.
The Wildcats finished out the last period strong and finished off the thoroughly dominating win. Aidan McLaughlin stopped all 12 shots he faced in the winning effort. Congratulations to Aidan for his first career win and shutout.
“The team played very well,” said McLaughlin. “Hopefully we keep it going.”
Despite playing two games in one day and three games in a 24-hour span, the Wildcats knew the bus ride back to Cleveland watching Wayne’s World wouldn’t be the same without a win over the formidable host, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
Both teams went back and forth in the first period. The Eaglets killed a Wildcat power play, and Zak Kovatch turned away multiple Eaglet chances.
The tides turned when Christian Radke forced a turnover in the Wildcat offensive zone. The senior playmaker dangled through a defenseman and dished a pass to Rory Zawadzki. Zawadzki finished off the pass high over the glove for the goal.
“It was the end of the shift and Radke created a turnover,” said Zawadzki. “Radke made a nice pass to me on a 2v1 and I put it past the goalie.”
The Eaglets would respond before the first period ended. A well set up powerplay created an open diagonal pass that found an Eaglet forward on the doorstep to tie things at one.
Coach O’Rourke preached in the locker room to keep playing physical on the forecheck and good things would come - and they did.
The Wildcats were like a prizefighter in the second period. The Wildcat offense kept throwing their proverbial punches while continuously tiring out their opponents. Zak Kovatch and his defense kept up their end of the bargain, and then finally the Wildcats broke the opponent.
The second period goal parade for the Wildcats produced three in the last three minutes of the period to put the game out of reach.
The festivities started when Chuckie Wilson and Christian Radke’s efforts drew an Eaglet penalty with 3:50 left in the second period.
Aidan Millett made a pass from the high circle to Ryce Federle. The senior took a snapshot from the point and while it was travelling to the net, it hit off the body of Cam Kurtz and found the back of the net.
“Millett passed the puck up to Ryce on the point,” said Kurtz. “Ryce walked and took a shot and it tipped off my behind and went in.”
On the next play, Alex Bilardo and Rory Zawadzki cut in on a 2v1. Bilardo’s pass hit Zawadzki on the tape but he could not quite handle it. What makes the veteran Zawadzki so special is, unlike many other young hockey players who would’ve laid off from the play, Zawadzki fought hard for the puck and sent it into the slot. The deflected pass found Matt Sullivan. Sullivan buried the goal which was his second of the weekend.
“I got a nice pass in the high slot,” said Sullivan. “I was able to beat the goalie with a low shot.”
With thirty seconds left in the penultimate period of the weekend, Christian Radke again forced a puck to a teammate. Danny Cook took a shot that bounced to Chuckie Wilson. Wilson grabbed the puck skated around the net and performed a wraparound backhanded goal that was made for Sports Center.
The Wildcat defense held strong and the offense again kept pressure on the home team.
Kovatch stopped a big opportunity early in the third period.
The Wildcats got a powerplay in the third. Puck movement from Erik Galauner and Michael Boehm led to a Danny Cook goal on the blocker side.
“It was great to bury that one backdoor,” said Cook. “Especially after Galauner’s Michigan attempt we wanted to get one for him.”
Zak Kovatch stopped 18-of-19 shots for his fourth win. Kovatch exits the weekend with a season total of 4-0-0, 1.75 GAA, and a .923 SV%.
“I was happy with both my performances,” said Kovatch. “I was backed up extremely well by my team.”
Coach O’Rourke was also happy with his team’s performance this weekend.
"Overall it was a very good weekend for the team,” O’Rourke said. “Michigan high school teams are excellent competition and they produce a ton of D1 college players. It's very difficult to go up there and win any games, let alone sweep a 3-game series against some of their top teams. And another good thing is, we worked out a few things systems-wise that I think will help us in the long run. Everybody on the roster contributed and I am proud of the boys for being willing to take on these challenges. They work so hard and we just come at teams in waves. One thing I can count on is, this group will always give a good effort in terms of energy and speed and hustle. I'll take that kind of squad any year."
The Blue and Gold completed the weekend 3-0-0, and improved their season record to 5-0-0. The Ice Cats are back in action Saturday night at 8 pm from the Ice Castle in Pittsburgh against the Predators, then again the next morning at 11 am.