NORTH OLMSTED — For two-plus periods, Monday’s Southwestern Conference championship game was a battle between red-hot goaltenders.
North Olmsted’s Chase Cullinan stopped 29 of 29 shots, while Amherst’s Kevin Kuhn stopped all 12 shots by the Eagles.
But when it counted most, the Comets broke through first.
Michael Dzoba, this week’s Chronicle-Telegram Player of the Week, chased down a runaway puck in the North Olmsted zone and went top-shelf for a short-handed goal spark Amherst to a 3-0 win and it’s second straight SWC title.
“My defender (Joe Masters) was able to poke the puck out of there and I saw an opportunity,” Dzoba said. “I went to the upper-right-hand corner. I saw a defender in front of me and another closing, so when the goalie went down I just shot the puck up and over.”
Dzoba’s goal broke open what had been a goalie clinic by the Eagles’ Cullinan, who stopped a Dzoba shot toward the end of the first period and sure-fire shots by Jordan Reynolds and Paul Miller in the second period to keep North Olmsted in the game.
The Eagles (10-10) had already lost to Amherst (18-4-1) three previous times this season.
“Their goalie played so well,” Comets coach Steve Morris said of Cullinan, who ended up with 39 saves.
“That short-handed goal can deflate the other team, but (Cullinan) still made some great saves even after the short-handed goal.
“He made some amazing saves and I’m not sure how he did some of those, but good for him. He really played well.”
Dzoba pushed the lead to 2-0 at the 9:03 mark of the third when Miller fired a shot off Cullinan and the puck dropped right in front of the goal mouth. Dzoba was standing right there and simply poked the puck across the line.
Connor Morris finished the scoring with 5:08 left off assists by Kevin Burgett and Miller.
“Our effort was strong and our goaltender really stood up,” North Olmsted coach Tim Murphy said. “He did all the simple things. He kept the puck in front of him and played the angles real well.
“We had some chances, but we couldn’t solve the mystery in front of their net. It’s been a Bermuda Triangle against these guys all year.”
Senior defenseman Jordan Reynolds was especially active in the third period. Taking on larger Eagles players, Reynolds was able to knock North Olmsted skaters off the puck and had several key blocks to thwart Eagle scoring chances.
As good as Cullinan was, in the end, it was Kuhn, just a freshman, who registered his seventh shutout of the year.
“I was really trying not to think much about the game in the locker room after the second period,” Kuhn said. “We were pretty relaxed coming out for the final period. I thought we were ready to go.”
The Comets host Brecksville on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the North Olmsted Recreation Center needing a win to clinch the White West division title.
Amherst 3, North Olmsted 0
FIRST PERIOD: None. Penalties — (NO) Michael Shackelton (elbow), 7:53, (NO) Kirk Brenson (elbow), 4:10, (AM) Jordan Reynolds, 1:04.
SECOND PERIOD: None. Penalties — (A) Reynolds (slashing), 0:00.
THIRD PERIOD: (A) Michael Dzoba (Joe Masters) SH, 13:52, (A) Dzoba (Paul Miller), 12:48; (A) Connor Morris (Kevin Burgett, Miller), 5:08. Penalties — (A) Miller (slashing), 12:48, (NO) Shawn Elliott (unsportsmanlike), 7:26, (NO) Elliott (swearing) 10:00, 7:26.
North Olmsted 0 0 0 — 0
Amherst 0 0 3 — 3
Shots on goal: North Olmsted 16 (5-7-4), Amherst 42 (14-15-13); Goalies: (NO) Chase Cullinan (42 shots, 39 saves), (A) Kevin Kuhn (16 shots, 16 saves); Power-play opportunities: North Olmsted 0-3, Amherst 0-3.
Contact James Brady at 329-7135 or email@example.com.