By Alex Plough

MUSKEGON – In an intense rivalry game filled with endless momentum shifts, Caden Brainard and the Reeths-Puffer hockey team got the last laugh on Saturday night.

The Rockets jumped out to a pair of commanding leads, Mona Shores scored twice in a wild comeback in the final minutes of regulation, then Brainard settled the issue with a goal early in the overtime period, giving R-P a wild 5-4 victory at L. Walker Arena.

Quinn Fowler rips a shot for Reeths-Puffer. Photo/Tim Reilly

Brainard finished with two goals and an assist and drew high praise from Reeths-Puffer Coach Bill Zalba after the game.

“It’s all about sticking to the game plan, sticking to the process, and just outcompeting,” Zalba said. “Ciden Brainard is the epitome of outcompeting. The kid is unbelievable at how hard he competes out there. He goes to the dirty areas and outcompetes and outworks. That’s what we need to have moving forward.”

A strong forechecking effort from the Rockets to start the game allowed forward Matt Herniman to capitalize with the first goal. He beat Mona Shores goalie TJ Habetler glove side with 5:14 left in the first period, with an assist from Nolan Convertini,

A little over four minutes into the second period, a Mona Shores penalty gave the Rockets the man advantage. Just 21 seconds into the power play, forward Nick Fuller found the back of the net, with Quinn Fowler and Brainard assisting, expanding the lead to 2-0.

No. 16 Andrew Taylor weaves through Reeths-Puffer defenders. Photo/Tim Reilly

Less than a minute after the Rocket goal, Sailors captain Connor Winegar buried an unassisted goal to cut the deficit to one. With 8:38 left in the second period, Mona Shores forward Nathan Taylor converted on a power play with Winegar assisting, tying the game up at 2-2 going into the final period.

The Rockets struck first in the third when Brainard scored off a pass from Gavin Viereck, giving R-P a 3-2 advantage with 9:33 left in regulation.

On a Reeths-Puffer breakaway attempt, Sailors defenseman Brennan Dethloff was called for slashing, giving the Rockets a man advantage with only 2:48 left. Just 38 seconds into the power play, Rocket forward Navarre Klint buried a goal off of a rebound, giving his team a seemingly safe 4-2 lead with just over two minutes remaining.

Just when you thought the game was over, Sailors forward Cayden Mollema beat R-P goalie Nick Meyering off a feed from Ty Langlois with 1:14 left, cutting the deficit to 4-3. Then freshman forward Trent Benedict found the back of the net with 39.8 seconds left on the clock, tying the game at 4-4 and forcing the overtime period.

Brainard scored his unassisted, game-winning goal exactly two minutes into overtime.

The Rockets improved to 6-3-1 on the season while the Sailors fell to 6-3.

The Sailors travel to Jenison next Friday for a conference game. Reeths-Puffer doesn’t play again until Jan. 3 at home against Grand Rapids West Catholic.