Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Alumni skates to 5-3 win over high school team

Another who’s who of local hockey

by Than Acuff

It was another special night Friday, December 27, when the boys faced the men in the annual high school hockey alumni game at Big Mine Ice Arena. The game gets hockey enthusiasts and families off of their couches and out of their houses for a reunion of sorts. The game goes well beyond the ice as old friends gather together under the roof at Big Mine for a little hockey fun.

And then there’s the game, as the offspring of the families surrounding the glass meet to prove what magic they may have left in their skates against the current high school players. As is often the case, disarray and disintegrating fitness levels typically fall in the end, with the fresh legs and lungs of the young team edging out the win in the third period.

This year was different, though. The alumni team was noticeably younger than most years and noticeably less incapacitated and there was no ad hoc coaching staff making poor decisions based on little knowledge of the game. Instead, the players ran their lines accordingly and got on and off the ice in a timely fashion, with a few exceptions, and their cohesion and effort was rewarded as they pulled off a 5-3 win over the high school team for the second, maybe third, time ever.

There was no shortage of family love out there as well, with Dom Piccaro on the alumni team and younger brother Colm Piccaro on the high school team, and even dad Bob Piccaro out there playing with the high school team. The Barrett brothers, Graham and Ben, suited up against each other, as did the Collins brothers with Jack and Luke on the alumni team and brother Adam on the high school team, and the Trujillos, Teddy and Matthew. The family affair even extended to the officials as Jay Wenum and his daughter, Megan Spann, agreed to ref the alumni game and could not have run a tighter ship, with plenty of room allowed to just let them play hockey.

The alumni opened the game as they always do, flying fast and talking trash, and even had an early chance on net with a three-on-one, only to get stalled by solid defense and a save by Titans goalie Shaughn Rourke.

The high school opened the scoring in the eighth minute with the help of assistant coach Shane McGuinness. McGuiness skated deep into the alumni zone and dropped the puck to Chris Myers, who slipped his wrist shot through traffic, tucking the puck in the low corner for a 1-0 lead.

It took all of three minutes, though, for the alumni to strike back when Sam Reaman posted up in the slot unattended and took a pass from behind the net to stuff it home. The high school team regained the lead only one minute later, thanks to the effort of McGuinness once again as he took a breakout pass and split the two alumni defenders to skate to net and score.

Aside from that, both Rourke and alumni goalie Montana Wiggins were on point in the first period with a number of great stops, including one from Rourke to deny Ashton Mabry the back of the net with a stick handle save, preserving the 2-1 high school lead through the end of the first period.

The extended break between periods for the annual Puck Toss fundraiser gave the alumni a chance to regroup and return to their high-flying ways, tying the game again in the first two minutes of the second period. As the high school team pressed into the alumni zone, Slater Weil picked up a loose puck and slipped a long pass to Sam Stepanek breaking loose, and Stepanek split the pads of Rourke through the five-hole for the goal.

Then classic alumni chaos struck—well, really, Wigginsesque chaos. The high school team iced the puck, or attempted to, but Wiggins skated out of his net to cut it off and try to play a long pass back up the ice. Unfortunately for him and the alumni, the idea was good but the execution was not, as his pass ended up on the stick of high school player Matthew Solanik, who buried the puck into the open net for a 3-2 high school lead.

But that would be it for the high school for the rest of the game, as the alumni proceeded to rattle off three unanswered goals. It all started with pinpoint tape-to-tape passing that led to a series of shots. While Rourke stopped them all, one trickled through his pads and Ian Dethloff poked the puck across the line to tie the game 3-3.

The alumni continued to push hard and took the lead for the first time all game late in the second period, when another flurry of shots resulted in another loose puck and Jack Collins put the wood to the puck to put the alumni on top 4-3 heading into the third period.

That’s when things typically fall apart for the alumni—but this time, they didn’t. Jack Collins tacked on an insurance goal for the alumni in the opening minute of the third period and Wiggins made up for his brain fart in the second period with several great saves, as the alumni skated to the 5-3 win.

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