ROCKY RIVER — If Sunday’s matchup was a Southwestern Conference tournament preview, fans might want to grab tickets for next Sunday.
Avon Lake, out of the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League’s White Division, jumped up a weight class Sunday night to host Red Division opponent North Olmsted at the Hamilton Ice Arena and it took overtime for the Eagles to pull out a tough 2-1 win.
“If we both do well next weekend, we could be right back at it again,” Eagles coach Ben Palocko said. “The last seven or eight games we’ve played well but just haven’t got the job done (0-6-2).
“We give a hat out after the game for the Player of the Game and we almost forgot how to do it. The guys worked hard and deserved this today.”
The Shoremen and North Olmsted are on the same side of the SWC tournament bracket and if they both win their openers against Avon and Westlake respectively, a rematch will be in the works in the semi-finals next Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at the North Olmsted Recreation Center.
The game-winning goal came on two great individual efforts when North Olmsted senior defenseman Jake Mlady blocked a shot with his shin pad, gathered the puck and found a speeding Riley Vertosnik at center ice.
Vertosnik raced in on Avon Lake junior goalie Dillon Aslaksen and went top shelf at 2:36 of overtime to move the Eagles to 4-8-2.
Until that point, Aslaksen had stymied the Eagles with 43 saves, including an astounding 24 in the third period when North Olmsted turned up the pressure and had several chances to win in regulation.
“I told the guys before the third with the score at 1-1 that (the Eagles) are going to come out hard, they don’t want to tie this game,” Avon Lake first-year coach Steve Burns said. “With a couple kids out with injuries (Nick Ospelt and Luke Farthing), this was a great effort.
“Dillon sat behind Cam (Stepka) for two years and that’s never fun for a player. You’re seeing his growth this year has been crazy. He is beating all expectations right now and keeping us in every game.”
The only goal allowed by Aslaksen in regulation came in the second period when Vertosnik gathered a loose puck at center ice, kicking it forward to himself and scoring short-handed with 4:24 left.
The score sat that way until the 9:46 mark of the third when Avon Lake’s Isaac Young answered with an unassisted short-handed goal to set up the overtime period.
“It was great to see him skate that up the ice and put that one in,” Burns said. “I’m yelling at him that he had a 3-on-1 and I’m thinking what I was going to say to him for shooting it, but I can’t say anything when it goes in.”
Avon Lake, now 12-8-3, had a chance to come away with the win in the third but Murphy Mohar had a shot bang off the post.
North Olmsted 2, Avon Lake 1 (OT)
FIRST: None. PENALTIES: (NO) Ashton Banhidy (2:00 tripping), 13:21, (NO) Shaun Donovan (2:00 slashing), 1:25.
SECOND: (NO) Riley Vertosnik (unassisted), SH, 4:24. PENALTIES: (NO) Banhidy (2:00 interference), 5:34, (AL) Brian Walasinski (2:00 slashing), 1:51, (NO) Jake Mlady (2:00 roughing), 1:51.
THIRD: (AL) Isaac Young (unassisted), SH, 9:46. PENALTIES: (AL) Jacob Schaltenbrand (2:00 tripping), 10:28, (NO) Justin Christ (2:00 high sticking), 6:59, (AL) Justin Share (2:00 tripping).
OVERTIME: (NO) Vertosnik (Jake Mlady), 2:36
North Olmsted 0 1 0 1 — 2
Avon Lake 0 0 1 0 — 1
Shots on goal: North Olmsted 45 (12-7-24-2), Avon Lake 25 (8-6-10-1). Saves: (NO) Joey Warszawski 24, (AL) Dillon Aslaksen 43. Power-play opportunities: North Olmsted 0-2, Avon Lake 0-3.