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HOCKEY: Big second period leads Troy Athens past Chippewa Valley

FRASER – The Troy Athens Red Hawks used a strong second period to overcome the Chippewa Valley Big Reds in the opening round of the MHSAA boys hockey playoffs Monday night, defeating the Big Reds 4-1.

After a quiet first period that saw the teams trade goals late in the period, the Red Hawks took control of the game in the second period. The Red Hawks came out flying, firing 15 shots on net and scoring two goals to break the game open. Troy Athens took the lead for good midway through the period when Mark Zielinski found Kyle Korsak in the high slot. Korsak fired a hard shot on net, and Grant Golke jammed the rebound into the back of the net to make it 2-1 Athens. Treveor Henson made it 3-1 Athens with 3:24 left in the second period when he tapped in a loose puck out of midair.

“It was an interesting game,” Athens head coach Joe Barone said. “Once we settled down in the second period we finally got our game going and took control of the game.”

“We had a decent first period, but we just didn’t have an answer for them in the second and third,” Big Reds head coach Zach MacIntosh said.

Chippewa Valley came out strong in the third period, but the Red Hawks withstood the charge despite being out shot 11-3 in the period. The Big Reds had some chances early in the period, but goaltender Jeff Merola, who finished with 27 saves, got a little help from the post on a point blast and Nathan Gurzell added an insurance marker early in the third period on a dazzling breakaway to close out the scoring and propel the Red Hawks to victory as the Big Reds’ comeback attempt got short circuited down the stretch by penalties.

“Any team who is desperate, who has their back against the wall is going to come out on fire,” Barone said. “That’s something we talked about in the room is we wanted to slow the game down.”

“We took penalties we shouldn’t have, and that always hurts. It disrupts flow,” MacIntosh said.

Overall, Barone credited the win to a good all-around team effort as the Red Hawks got solid defense; balanced scoring, with four different players getting goals including John Merola’s opening goal in the first period; and a solid night out of Jeff Merola in net. “That’s what’s important,” Barone said. “In playoffs, it doesn’t matter who gets the goal. You’ve got to get the goal. We had quite a few different scorers. Our first two goals came from secondary scoring.”

At the other end, Josh Young tallied the lone goal for the Big Reds who put together a good effort led by seniors J.J. Amato, Mike Fragomeni, Matt Haerens, and Jon Gaydos. But in the end it wasn’t enough. “Our seniors played hard,” MacIntosh said. “They worked because they knew it was their last game if we didn’t win.”

Troy Athens moves on to Wednesday’s pre-regional final where they will face their cross town rivals, the Troy Colts for the third time this year.

“It’s going to come down to who is the better team this time,” Barone said. “The first two games had a lot of emotion behind them. This one will have the emotion, but it’s going to be the team that shows up to play hockey, and you’re going to see the better team prevail. As the coach, I can only hope it’s us. But I truly think that both teams will be at the top of their game, and we’ll see a really good hockey game that will see the better team prevailing and not the team that gets the weirdest bounces.”

Chippewa Valley concludes what has been a rebuilding year with a record of 7-16-1. “It’s a little disappointing. You always hope to win a playoff game,” MacIntosh said. “But we knew it was going to be a rebuilding year. But it still doesn’t take away the sting from it.”

Last Updated: 2/26/2013 12:25:13 PM EST

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