BROOKLYN — The third period was not kind to Avon on Sunday, and it cost the Eagles the Baron Cup II championship.
Western Reserve Academy posted a pair of goals in the final period to pull away for a 3-1 win at the Brooklyn Recreation Center.
“I felt the game was going to be close all day long,” Avon coach Nick Novakovic said. “I told the boys that they played a good game and there is nothing to hang their heads about. (Western Reserve) just came out on top.”
It was quite a tournament showing for the Eagles (26-4-1) in just their second year in the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League.
Like so many games this season, Avon jumped on top, as senior forward Eric Novakovic netted his 50th goal of the season. He sent a shot off goalie Christian Ciraco’s glove with 1:16 left in the first period.
The Eagles were outshot in the first period 10-5, but the hot goaltending by senior Joe Sefchik kept the Pioneers (20-7-1) out of the net and behind on the scoreboard going to the first intermission.
Avon reversed the offensive pressure with a 12-4 shots-on-goal advantage in the second period, but this time it was Ciraco (21 saves) that came up with the big stops to keep the Eagles from scoring.
In their last regular-season game against Avon, the Pioneers scored a pair of power-play goals. They capitalized again midway through the second period when Robert Markwell scored at 8:12 to knot the game at 1.
“Even though the score was 1-1, I still thought we had things going the way I wanted them to go,” Western Reserve coach Brand Closen said. “We practice the power play a lot and over the course of the year we have about a 45 percent success rate, which is unheard of at any level.”
The Pioneers didn’t need the power play to put away the game in the third period, getting a pair of even-strength goals.
Daniel Hill took a pass from Eric Buehler to beat Sefchik through the five-hole for a 2-1 lead with 11:09 left.
The final goal was one of the best in the tournament, as Markwell powered through three Eagles defenders and got a shot off with Pat Baeder trying to push him away from the goal.
Markwell fired and it found the back of the net for his 57th score of the year to give the Pioneers a huge two-goal cushion with 3:23 left.
“They really have great players and great players make great plays,” Avon’s Alex Guzik said. “That last goal he made, I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
Avon tried to make one last run, but was short-circuited when the Eagles were called for a tripping penalty with 3:02 left.
The Pioneers spent most of the penalty killing time instead of trying to add to their lead. When Avon finally returned to full strength, Western Reserve found a way to keep the Eagles from setting up on offense.
“It’s tough to look at things in a positive way after a loss. Walking away and having time to settle down, it’s awesome what we did in the second year of our program,” Avon senior Braeden Friss said. “It was just two evenly matched, talented teams going at each other and any night it could go either way.”
The season is not over for the Eagles. They face Benedictine in the opening round of the state playoffs Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Brooklyn. Avon beat the Bengals 2-0 in the first round of the Baron Cup II playoffs last week.
Contact James Brady at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Western Reserve 3, Avon 1
FIRST PERIOD: (A) Eric Novakovic (Alex Guzik, Joe Goetz), 1:16. Penalties: None.
SECOND PERIOD: (WR) Robert Markwell (Otto Bohan), PP, 8:12. Penalties: (WR) Markwell (cross-check), 14:11, (A) Christian Hironymous (hooking), (WR) Davis Johnson (cross-check), 5:42, (A) Pat Baeder (hooking), 4:51.
THIRD PERIOD: (WR) Daniel Hill (Eric Buehler), 11:09, (WR) Markwell (unassisted), 3:23. Penalties: (A) Darren Carter (tripping), 6:58, (A) Dominic Bowlin (tripping), 3:02.
Western Reserve 0 1 2 — 3
Avon 1 0 0 — 1
Shots on goal: Avon 22 (5-12-5), Western Reserve 27 (10-4-13). Goalies: Avon: Joe Sefchik (27 shots, 24 saves), Western Reserve: Christian Ciraco (22 shots, 21 saves). Power-play opportunities: Avon 0-2, Western Reserve 1-4.