By Pete Chiodo
A big, rowdy home crowd and big win over Cathedral Prep: What a way to send off the Meadville hockey team’s 12th-graders as the Bulldogs rang up a 7-4 victory over the arch-rival Ramblers during senior night Monday at the DeArment Ice Arena.
“It’s always a great feeling beating Prep,” said Meadville senior Derek Richardson. “It’s always a great rivalry. We don’t like them, they don’t like us. It goes back a long way. We wanted to beat them so bad. To get the win just feels amazing.”
Along with Richardson, Mike Bogardus, Cade Nickerson and Rob Stainbrook all played in their last game at the House of Chills.
“Senior night, it means a lot to me,” said Bogardus. “It was the last game at home, in front of all our fans. It’s been a fun ride with these three other seniors. It’s great to go out with a win.”
Last night’s victory was the fourth in a row for Meadville’s combined midget and varsity programs, and the third victory of the last three days.
The Bulldogs finish the regular season with a record of 20-9-3.
The win over Prep was the perfect exclamation point.
“We knew the fans were going to come out for this one,” said Nickerson. “We’d been hyping this game for awhile. Hockey is one of those sports that Meadville and Prep have gone back and forth with. In football, we don’t really match up with them that well. Basketball, we don’t even play them I don’t think. But hockey, we can beat them, and people know that. And that’s something that we’re really proud of.”
It was Nickerson that got the ball rolling for the Bulldogs last night.
First, though, the Bulldogs fell behind. Cathedral Prep was on a penalty kill halfway through the first when the Ramblers’ Trevor Faulkner stole the puck at the point and was off on a breakaway. His shot attempt was blocked by Meadville goalie Sam Kineston. But Brandon Gotkin was right behind him and he buried the rebound to push CP in front.
The Bulldogs, however, were just too fired up to let that early score get them down.
“We were so into it. We were so intense,” said Stainbrook. “We got here early today. We were just ready to go. We knew we were going to win. We knew it. We had it the whole time.”
So, just 20 seconds after Gotkin’s goal, Nickerson tied it up for the ’Dogs on a power play, redirecting a blue line slap shot from teammate Josh Orr past Prep goaltender Grant Kennedy.
“I just redirected it with my skate,” said Nickerson. “That gave us a lot of energy.”
The Bulldogs’’ emotions got the better of them as the first period rolled on, though. They got hit with three penalties under two minutes apart.
“The thing I was worried about was we were almost too fired up,” said Bulldogs head coach Jamie Plunkett. “We talked a little bit about managing their emotions. We took a couple penalties that were emotion-driven.”
The third penalty gave Prep a 5-on-3 for 1:18. And the Ramblers capitalized when Jeremy Ordos scored with 3:05 to go.
Again, though, Meadville kept working. And with 1:20 left in the first and the ’Dogs on a power play, Bryan Ray went top shelf on Kennedy to knot the score at 2-2. Stainbrook got the assist.
In the second period, Meadville dominated, scoring two unanswered goals while out-shooting Prep 21-11.
Ray tallied his second of the night with 5:05 to go in the second, again on a power play.
About half a minute later Stainbrook scored — well, kinda.
Actually it was Prep’s Dana Stewart who accidentally knocked the puck into his team’s own goal. Stainbrook got the credit for the power play tally, even though, he admits, his involvement in the score consisted of ...
“I was laughing at him,” Stainbrook said.
Either way, the Bulldogs were up 4-2 with four straight goals on the power play.
“I think four power play goals is the most we’ve scored all year,” said Plunkett.
That lead increased to 5-2 just 1:47 into the third period, when Bogardus corralled a loose puck near the front of the net and squeezed it by Kennedy.
“It popped out. I was in the right place,” said Bogardus. “I got lucky, is what I’m saying.”
Prep came up with an answer a minute later with a goal by Jim Bufalino, cutting the ’Dogs’ lead to 5-3.
However, between the six- and five-minute marks, Meadville blasted in two goals in the span of 35 seconds to pull out to a 7-3 lead.
Orr had the first, beating Kennedy on a one-on-one. And Owen Miller got the second, knocking in a centering pass from Nickerson that had missed its intended target and trickled back to him for the shot.
Meadville ended the game with a whopping 43 shots on goal. Kennedy saved 36 of them.
Kineston made 30 saves on 34 shots, including some crucial stoppers on a handful of choice opportunities for Prep’s shooters.
“Sam had some big, big saves for us, because Prep had some good looks at the net,” said Plunkett. “Bufalino can really fire the puck. So can Gotkin, Faulkner — they’ve got a couple talented kids. So, I thought Sam did a good job when we needed him.”
The game summed up the regular season for the program. The Bulldogs will finish up the year in the Lakeshore Hockey League playoffs.
The league semifinals are March 7 at the Erie Insurance Arena. Meadville, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, faces the winner of the March 5 game between the league’s fourth and fifth seeds. The league championship game is then slated for March 14 at the Mercyhurst Ice Center.