BRAD RILEY closes in on goal during action against Winnacunnet on Jan. 26. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
January 28, 2013EXETER — Earlier in the season, if the Kingswood hockey team had played a game like it played on Saturday, Jan. 26, it's likely that the Knights would've been collared with a loss.
However, as the team continues to improve, the kids are learning that they can still grind out a win even when they aren't playing their best hockey.
"In two of our losses, we played better than we did tonight," Knight coach Andrew Trimble said after his Knights knocked off Winnacunnet by a 7-4 score. "But the sign of a good team is when you don't play your best but are still able to gut it out."
The Knights got the 7-4 win in thanks to solid nights from some familiar faces on a night when it seemed that for every move the Warriors made, the Knights had an answer.
The hosts wasted precious little time in getting on the scoreboard, putting a shot home just 1:36 into the game for a quick 1-0 lead.
But as they would all night, the Knights answered right back, as less than a minute later, Chris Pollini broke into the zone and fired home a shot from the left circle to tie the game at one. Owen Richard got the assist.
The two teams exchanged penalties, with each team getting a short power play. Matt Fuller had a nice clear on the Warrior power play and Pollini and CJ Sirrell had good scoring chances during the four-on-four battle. Brad Riley just missed connections with Peter Marshall on a good scoring bid during the power play and Pollini fired one high before the advantage ran out.
Kingswood keeper Shawn Goggin made a nice save after a big Kingswood turnover and the Knights responded with some good pressure, as Pollini, Riley and Sirrell charged into the offensive zone and helped the Knights draw a power play with 7:39 to go.
Pollini and Lucas Bonenfant had shots on the power play but the Knights weren't able to capitalize and Goggin made a big save coming out of the advantage to keep the game tied.
Owen Gonya, Marshall, Polllini and Sam Bonenfant kept charging the net looking for scoring bids and Goggin made a couple more big saves as the Knights and Warriors went back and forth up the ice.
Matt Mitchell, Pollini, Riley and Sirrell all had scoring chances in the final minutes of the period, but the horn sounded after 15 minutes with the teams tied at one.
The Warriors tested Goggin right out of the gate in the second period and he stood strong. The hosts also did a nice job of killing off a Knight power play early in the period, but coming out of the advantage, Sirrell, Richard, Pollini and Mitchell all had good scoring chances denied.
The Warriors grabbed the lead by with 6:14 to go, slipping a shot by Goggin from the circle, but again, the Knights had the answer. This time it was Riley, stuffing the puck home just 13 seconds later from Richard to tie the game at two.
Then, right off the ensuing faceoff, Riley fired home the go-ahead goal on an assist from Lucas Bonenfant, giving the Knights their first lead of the night, a lead they would never relinquish.
Trimble noted that the two quick goals in response to the Warrior tally was key.
"That's good senior leadership by Brad," Trimble said.
Goggin was key in keeping the lead, as he turned away three Warrior shots right in a row to keep the Knight lead and with 4:16 to go, Josh Grasso got the Knights some breathing room, taking the puck the length of the ice and burying it in the net for a 4-2 lead.
Grasso helped out on defense as well, making a great play to breakup a breakaway and it turned into a Knight goal, as Pollini stuffed the puck home with 52 seconds to go on the clock on an assist from Grasso for a 5-2 lead.
However, the Knights took a penalty with 36 seconds to go in the period and the Warriors capitalized, touching home a shot as the horn sounded to end the period, cutting the lead to 5-3.
Kingswood answered the bell again, this time just 1:10 into the period, as Riley fired home a rebound of a Pollini shot to complete his hat trick and give Kingswood a 6-3 lead.
The Knights kept on going, as they played to the whistle after a Warrior save and Fuller was able to stuff the puck home with 10:07 to play for a 7-3 lead.
After some solid Warrior pressure, they put home a fourth goal with 7:38 to go in the game, but that was as close as they got. Riley, Pollini, Sirrell and Lucas Bonenfant did a great job killing off a late power play and Goggin made some big saves down the stretch to close out the 7-4 victory.
"We were sloppy tonight," Trimble said. "But we're starting to have the winning mentality, where we can go on the road, have a job to do and just do it."
He noted that the win against the Warriors was extra important because the Knights are in a battle for a playoff spot with the Winnacunnet side, meaning it's a key point swing in that hunt.
At 5-5, the Knights were excited to be back at .500, with eight games left on the schedule.
"We have to be aggressive, but still have to be disciplined," Trimble said. "We don't want to get very far from our game plan."
The Knights will be in action on Thursday, Feb. 7, at 8 p.m. at Oyster River.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at email@example.com or 569-3126