After dominating play on both ends of the ice for the first two periods Monday, especially at even strength, the Thomas S. Wootton High School hockey team emerged from the locker room with a modest 3-1 lead over Atholton in their Maryland Student Hockey League semifinal game, but facing 113 seconds of the Raiders having a man-advantage because of a penalty.
Wootton (15-1-0) had killed off the first four Atholton (12-1-0) power plays with little difficulty, but the Patriots’ players and coaches said they knew the Raiders would start the third period with the potentially pivotal combination of a sense of desperation and an extra attacker.
Not only was Wootton up to the task, killing off that power play and one more later, the Patriots appeared to be toying with the Raiders despite being shorthanded. Wootton senior defenseman Austin Schoenfeld forced Atholton goalie Kyle Brinker to make three saves on clearing attempts from his own zone. Three minutes later Schoenfeld scored a goal and two minutes later Luke Klecker, who scored the Patriots’ first goal, added another as Wootton cruised to a 5-1 victory at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel.
Wootton advances to face Leonardtown in the Maryland Student Hockey League championship game at 7:15 p.m. Friday at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel. Leonardtown, which is rated as the top seed in the 2A tournament, defeated Easton, 5-2, in Monday’s other MSHL semifinal.
Wootton senior forward Sam Eichberg said the extended break during the second intermission — play is typically stopped to allow the Zamboni to smooth the ice — could not have come at a better time. The Patriots owned a 3-1 lead, but the Raiders were set to start the third period with nearly a full power play and an early Atholton goal would have reduced the Wootton lead to 3-2.
“That power play to start the third period was the turning point of the game,” Eichberg said. “We talked about that in the locker room before we went back on the ice. We knew they were going to come at us and we had to hold our ground. When you have defensemen like Austin and Jordy [Bretner] and a goalie like Jake Mitchell, you don’t have to worry about too many goals getting through.”
Wootton coach Dave Evans commended his players for their poise and their savvy, especially during Atholton’s six power play chances when the Patriots prevented the Raiders from scoring.
“In basically every phase of the game, I thought we played almost a perfect game,” said Evans, who was honored with a plaque before the game for his 20 years of service to the Patriots’ program. “We killed off all six of their power plays and we never really let them get an attack. Our guys just stayed pateint and they didn’t try to do too much. A lot of times in these games, the kids get too anxious and try to do too much. But tonight they played
Friday’s MSHL final is the last game for 10 seniors and Klecker, a junior who says he will be moving to Massachusetts in the summer.
“This is my third and final year on the team and I really can’t explain how much it means to be playing for a championship,” Klecker said. “These guys have been tremendous all year and tonight we played with so much confidence. Even when they had those power plays, we didn’t really get bothered by that. We knew our defense was not going to let them score.”
After Wootton killed Atholton’s first power play, the Patriots took a 1-0 lead on Klecker’s first goal of the game less than five minutes in. Wootton dominated play at even strength and later in the first period it was junior Adam Kaplan who scored to give the Patriots a 2-0 lead.
After Wootton killed off two Atholton power play chances to start the second period, junior Harrison Linowes stuffed the puck past Brinker to make it 3-0. But the Raiders got a modest reprieve later in the period when Tre White converted a Wootton turnover into a goal that trimmed the Patriots’ lead to 3-1 heading into the final frame.
Wootton 5, Atholton 1
Atholton 0 1 0—1
Wootton 2 1 2—5
Shots on goal - Wootton 34, Atholton 13
1st period - W - Klecker (4:48)
1st period - W - Kaplan (11:53)
2nd period - W - Linowes (7:11)
2nd period - A - White (10:59)
3rd period - W - Schoenfeld (4:40)
3rd period - W - Klecker (6:33)