By Matthew Digiacomo
Jamie Plunkett has done a lot in his 27-year tenure as a head coach. So, in many ways, the CCYHA Midget Flames’ 6-3 win on Saturday over the Arctic Foxes at DeArment Arena in Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League action was no different than any other victory.
However, the scene in the locker room afterwards would say otherwise.
Plunkett always has a talk with his team following a game. But win No. 900 proved to be a little more emotional for the coach. As he thanked the players, he got a little choked up about the milestone.
“I am personally glad it is here,” said Plunkett. “I didn’t talk about it, the kids didn’t talk about it. It was just one of those things you knew it was there. Just get it over with and move on.
“I am proud it has all been done in this community. A lot of coaches have moved around. But I think doing it all in this community may be the most rewarding thing.”
The team gave Plunkett plenty to be emotional about.
Sure, there was the milestone victory. But how the game played out had to give Plunkett a smile. And that is even after a slow start.
The Foxes took a 1-0 lead midway through the opening period on a goal by Carl Renner. The puck looked like it was going to be stopped by goalie Sam Kineston, but caromed in off the skate of a CCYHA skater.
“That was a fluky goal,” said Rob Stainbrook.
Two and a half minutes later, Stainbrook tied the score at 1-1 with assists going to Cade Nickerson and Mike Bogardus. About two minutes after that, Stainbrook struck again, this time on a power play to make it 2-1 Flames (4-13-0 PAHL). It was a lead the team would take into the first break. It also seemed to give the home squad the momentum it needed.
“It felt like a swing in momentum,” said Stainbrook. “They scored right away and we were a little worried. But when I scored that second goal, I think we knew then that we had it.”
That momentum almost swung back to the Foxes early in the third period. A bad giveaway in the neutral zone led to a breakaway for Tyler Cerminara. The Arctic Fox made CCYHA pay with a goal 4:37 into the period, tying the contest at 2-2.
With 7:27 left in the stanza, Chace Vickers returned the favor. Vickers battled for the puck, somehow managed to keep his balance after several checks in the Foxes’ end, and beat goalie Jacob Cowie to make it 3-2.
With under a minute left, the Flames put the game away.
On a power play, Derek Richardson made it 4-2 with 47 seconds left in the second. Soon after — 13 seconds to be exact — John Gizzie made it 5-2. All that stood between Plunkett and 900 was the third.
“Now we can play hard and not have to worry about it,” said Stainbrook. “We want to close the season on a roll and this was the first step.
The team exchanged goals in the final stanza to account for the final score. Cerminara scored his second of the game for the Foxes. Bogardus scored the final goal for the Flames.
As for the keys to victory, there were several.
The Flames kept play, for the most part, in the Foxes ‘zone. A lot of that came from domination on the faceoff. As a team, CCYHA won 30-of-46 draws, including an impressive 13-of-20 in the attacking zone. Nickerson played a major role in that, winning 15 of the 22 draws he took.
“I think Cade and Josh (Orr) are two really good faceoff guys,” said Plunkett. “So we have had a lot of success winning faceoffs this year. You have to be able to cheat a little bit, and anticipate the drop of the puck. And if you win the faceoff, you usually have control of the puck.”
“Usually at the end of practice we work on faceoffs,” said Nickerson. “I think we have gotten better at them as the season has gone along.”
Shots on goal were a factor as well.
CCYHA scored six times, but it could have easily been more if not for Cowie. The Flames blistered shots, rebounds and deflections in the Foxes’ goalies direction, and he stood on his head for most of them. He allowed six goals, but that came mainly because the Flames took a season-high 52 shots on goal.
“I think a win like this against a good goalie will be a confidence booster going forward,” said Nickerson. “I also think it was good for the younger players. They saw (Saturday) that if you put the puck on the net, good things will happen.”
“Sometimes the light comes on,” said Plunkett. “And the kids are starting to move the puck around and shoot the puck more.”
Bogardus finished with a goal and two assists, while Stainbrook had his pair of goals. Richardson also had an assist to go with his goal. Nickerson had a second assist, while Brock Biggs, Owen Miller and Bryan Ray each had an assist.
The team will be back in action on Monday as the Meadville Bulldogs. The Bulldogs host South-west/Maplegrove at 6:45 p.m. at the DeArment Arena.