ELYRIA — Elyria Catholic may struggle on the ice this year with only eight skaters and it showed in Wednesday night’s 6-2 loss to Lakewood in the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League opener for both clubs in the White West Division.
The Panthers (0-2, 0-1) went up early, but then had no answer for the Rangers Zach Moran, who scored four times and added an assist in the win for Lakewood (1-1, 1-0).
“We are skating with seven or eight kids and they are getting gassed out there,” Panthers coach Rick Montgomery said. “I thought our defense played solid for the most part and we have new players out there that are learning the game and it’s going to be a work in progress for us this year.”
Elyria Catholic struck first with 9:11 left in the opening period when sophomore David Kukucka picked up a loose puck on the wing and fired on goal to beat Lakewood’s Hunter Nugent.
Kukucka wasn’t done in the period though, firing a wrist shot about 30 seconds later to break the glass behind the Lakewood goal that resulted in a 21-minute delay.
The score looked like it would hold up through the first period until Moran picked up the puck near the end line and beat the Panthers’ Luke Farmer through the five-hole to knot the game at one with 16 seconds left in the period.
“One of the new guys out there learned that you can’t turn the puck over right there, because it cost us,” Montgomery said. “You can play well for an entire period and one mistake can cost you.”
The importance of the late goal was not lost on Moran.
“Getting a goal late like that in the period can really propel you,” Moran said. “I just wanted to keep the offensive pressure up at the end of the period and I got lucky getting the puck in the five-hole from such a tough angle by the end line.
“When you score like that, you want to come out in the next period and keep up the pressure. We were able to get that done.”
Moran scored just 22 seconds into the second period when he one-timed the puck on a pass from teammate Nate Bonacuse from behind the EC goal for a 2-1 lead.
The two Rangers traded spots on the next score when Moran assisted on Bonacuse’s score with 11:44 on the second period clock for a 3-1 advantage.
Despite being outshot 19-6 in the second period, the Panthers had a pair of late chances but were turned away both times by Nugent, who finished the night stopping 14 of 16 Elyria Catholic shots on goal.
Kukucka had a shorthanded breakaway chance with 6:38 on the clock and Will Gentry took a long pass at center ice and skated in only to be stonewalled by Nugent.
“Those saves at the end of the night are as important as us putting the puck in the net,” Rangers coach Josh Dress said. “(EC) moved the puck up quickly and they snuck behind our defenders. He was able to make a couple of really big saves.”
Moran put the game away for Lakewood, scoring twice in the first four minutes of the third period on assists by Luke Walkush and Tommy Kettel for his first career four-goal game.
The Panthers did pick up a late score from Gentry, who gathered in a loose puck off a Ranger stick for an unassisted goal.
Lakewood 6, Elyria Catholic 2
FIRST PERIOD: (EC) David Kukucka (unassisted), 9:11, (L) Zach Moran (Donny McRae). SECOND PERIOD: (L) Moran (Nate Bonacuse), 14:38, (L) Bonacuse (Moran), 11:44. Penalties: (EC) Paul Demer (tripping), 6:38. THIRD PERIOD: (L) Moran (Luke Walkush), 13:42, (L) Moran (Tommy Kettel), 11:22 PP, (EC) Will Gentry (unassisted), 5:40, (L) Joe Young (Walkush, Matt Johnson). Penalties: (EC) Kukucka (holding), 12:19.
Lakewood 1 2 3 — 6
Elyria Catholic 1 0 1 — 2
Shots on goal: Elyria Catholic 16 (6-6-4), Lakewood 50 (15-19-16). Goalies: Elyria Catholic: Luke Farmer (50 shots, 44 saves); Lakewood: Hunter Nugent (16 shots, 14 saves). Power-play opportunities: Elyria Catholic 0-0, Lakewood 2-1.