By Dave Tomczak
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – Reeths-Puffer was given every chance to build a lead in Thursdays Pre-Regional final against Mona Shores at the L.C. Walker Arena. And the Rockets took full advantage.
With the man-advantage, thanks to 11 Mona Shores penalties, the Rockets scored five times on the power-play and finished a season sweep of the Sailors, 6-5.
Reeths-Puffer advances to Saturdays Regional Championship against Forest Hills Eastern. Forest Hills defeated Grand Haven, 6-0, to advance to the championship game, which will be at noon Saturday at a site to be determined.
Leading 6-3 with time running down, the Rockets held on as Mona Shores scored two goals in the final minute to make the game close. But it was the opening minute of the game that gave Puffer its momentum towards the win.
Derreck Pleimling scored just over a minute into the game to give the Rockets an early 1-0 lead. Then Shores would pick up a major penalty, putting Reeths-Puffer on a five minute power-play.
But just two minutes into the power play, the Rockets turned the puck over in its own end, and the Sailors’ Alec Sturr would pick up the loose puck and find Colin Rabach who would bury it in the top corner to tie the game at 1-all.
The Rockets, however, still had three minutes left with the extra attacker and would score with 57 seconds left on it, as Ryan Compeau would slip a redirected shot past Shores goalie Tim McClain.
“To come out of that (power play) even should feel like a loss,” Puffer coach Eric Sikkenga said. “But to comeback after they scored with a goal and be back up one really helped. It gave us back a little momentum and took five minutes off the clock.”
It also kicked off a string of goals for the Rockets with the extra attacker.
Leading 2-1 to start the second period, Puffer would get a chance to increase its lead just 3:34 in. Again on the power play, Tanner Napierala, who finished the game with two assists, picked the puck off the back of the net, wrapped around the front of the goal and slid a pass to Josh Smith for an easy goal and a 3-1 lead.
Compeau had a chance to increase the Rocket lead, getting grabbed on a breakaway and being awarded a penalty shot with 7:33 left in the period. But the senior forward fired a shot high over the net and the scored remained 3-1 for two minutes, before the Sailors struck back.
Mona Shores’ Sawyer Jensen wouldn’t be denied on his breakaway attempt, speeding past the Puffer defense and burying a shot in the top of the net to pull his team within one, 3-2.
But the Sailors celebration didn’t last long. Just 50 seconds after Jensen’s goal, another penalty put the Rockets back on the offensive. And 14 seconds into the power play, Riley Draper redirected a shot for a 4-2 lead.
“When we scored, then get a penalty right after that,” Shores coach Pat Rabbitt said. “That makes it tough. We didn’t do a good job of-once we scored-keeping that momentum.”
Once again, the Sailors went right to the penalty box, this time just 1:05 after the last Puffer goal. And once again, Draper made them pay.
Napierala would find Draper on a cross-ice pass that the junior forward flipped up and over McClain for a 5-2 lead after two periods.
“Our power play wasn’t really working at first,” Draper, who also had an assist in the game, said. “(Mona Shores) was much more physical this time and it was harder to move the puck. We didn’t really get going until the second period.”
Josh Smith’s power play goal, 4:04 into the third period, increased the R-P lead to 6-2 and had Rockets fans looking to buy tickets to the Regional finals game Saturday. But the Sailors weren’t done quite yet.
With a player in the box for both teams, Mona Shores took advantage of the open ice as Dalton L’Allier scored on the 4-on-4 with 10 minutes left in the game, cutting the lead to 6-3.
Sikkenga, looking to get his backup goalie some action, took starting netminder Jake Vander Lee out with 6:36 left and put in Jared Erickson in. Erickson would stop the first five shots he faced but wasn’t so fortunate on the last two.
L’Allier scored his second goal of the night with one minute left in the game, pulling Shores to within two goals, 6-4.
Twelve seconds later, Rabach notched his second of the game, and all of a sudden, the Sailors fans were sitting back down in their seats.
“We got a little loose at the end there and made some mistakes,” Sikkenga said. “They’re a good team but we got the win, that’s what matters most. We’re excited, this team was built to be in championship games and we have the regional finals Saturday.”
Mona Shores wouldn’t get back to the Puffer end in the final 38 seconds and the Rockets survived and advanced, ending the Sailors season for the second straight year.
“They got five power play goals and we just didn’t stay out of the box,” Rabbitt said. “That created the separation. Yeah, we got close at the end, but, the guys kept battling.”
Both teams finished with 24 shots on goal, with McClain finishing with 18 saves and Vander Lee stopping 16.