Rochester United celebrates a second-period goal during its 4-1 victory over Stoney Creek Saturday night in the OAA Red Tournament championship game at the Detroit Skate Club. (Special to The Oakland Press/LARRY McKEE)
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BLOOMFIELD HILLS – Heading into the Oakland Activities Association Red Division tournament as the top seeded team, Rochester United left little doubt who was the No. 1 team in the division over the course of the past couple of weeks.
After topping Birmingham Unified 5-2 in the quarterfinals, and Clarkston 5-1 in the semifinals, Rochester continued its hot streak in the OAA Red, as it rolled to a convincing 4-1 win over cross-town rival Stoney Creek in the OAA Red championship game.
Rochester head coach Craig Staskowski noted that with the OAA Red being very balanced this year, his team came into the tournament with a target on its back, which is something he felt his team responded to very well from start to finish.
“It’s good because the league was so close that every team came into this at the beginning thinking they had a chance to win,” he said. “And with us being the number one seed, we had a target on our back, so we had to meet everyone’s challenge and I think we did it, and I think we did pretty well. We beat Birmingham 5-2, Clarkston 5-1 and Stoney Creek 4-1, so we did it pretty convincingly. When the season’s over and I get a chance to reflect and look back on it, I’ll definitely be proud of what we accomplished these past two weekends.”
Facing a 2-0 deficit midway through the third period, Stoney Creek found itself with a 5-on-3 opportunity as the Cougars looked to cut the Rochester lead in half.
But Rochester then took advantage as Michael Pelino chased down a loose puck at center ice and then raced past a Stoney Creek defenseman and sent a shot over the shoulder of the Stoney Creek goaltender to give Rochester a 3-0 lead with just eight minutes left to play.
“As a coach you don’t want to say at that point that’s the game,” Staskowski said of Pelino’s goal. “It was a huge momentum swing and that was the first time where our kids probably started thinking we’re going to win this game.”
Pelino noted that with Stoney Creek looking to cut the Rochester lead in half, it was a big momentum swing for his team to take a three goal lead late in the game and added that the key for his team in the final minutes was just to play solid defense.
“That was a huge boost,” said Pelino. “We were shorthanded, 3-on-5 and it could have gone either way and that was a momentum changer. We knew we would have it locked up if we just played good defense in the last few minutes.”
26 seconds after Pelino’s goal, Stoney Creek finally managed to get on the scoreboard as Josh Niederhauser took a pass from Cam Scharret and snuck it past Rochester goaltender Kyler Patenaude, who carried a shutout for the first 44 minutes.
Stoney Creek head coach Ian Smith said that he felt his team had solid power play opportunities throughout the night and was finally able to cash in with Niederhauser’s goal.
“I thought our power play moved the puck really well tonight,” he said. “We did the things that we needed to do to be successful tonight, but it just wasn’t going in for us. We were getting pucks through too and their goalie did a good job of finding them, but we moved the puck really well on our part.”
But Rochester then put the game away in the final minutes when Evan Asuncion brought the puck inside the Stoney Creek end, split a pair of defenseman and sent a pass right across the front of the goal where Alex Shell easily sent the puck into the back of the net to give United a more than comfortable 4-1 lead.
Rochester got the scoring started in the first period as Max Harper took a pass from right in front of the net and sent a shot from just inside the blue line and sent a shot into the top of the net to give his team an early 1-0 lead with just under seven minutes left to play in the opening frame.
“We definitely knew we had to win this one,” Pelino said of his team’s mentality heading into Saturday’s game. “This was a big game for the whole team. We knew (Stoney Creek) was going to come at us hard, so we had to work hard.”
Rochester later increased its lead to 2-0 in the second period when defenseman Nick Marek picked up a 5-on-3 power play goal as he sent a shot in from the blue line and made its way through traffic and past the Stoney Creek goalie to give United a two goal advantage after two periods.
“We knew we were going to have a pretty good team and we had goals,” Staskowski said. “Winning the OAA Red championship title, that was goal number two, so we’re right where we want to be and it’s definitely going to build our confidence going into the game on Monday. You beat a good team like (Stoney Creek) that’s playing really good hockey. To achieve our next goal, we’ve got to go through Dakota and at this point, everybody starts 0-0.”