River Hill, Howard play a 3-2 classic Club hockey: Upstart River Hill grabbed a big lead, but then the Lions roared, and players on both teams agree, they want to meet again.

January 23, 1998|By Stan Rappaport | Stan Rappaport,SUN STAFF

How good was Monday's River Hill vs. Howard club hockey game at the The Gardens Ice House in Laurel?

Good enough that both teams can't wait to play each other again.

"We're going to, hopefully, see these guys again," said Howard coach Michael Rand, whose team's rally from a three-goal deficit fell short, 3-2. "They haven't heard the last from us."

River Hill goalie Steve Otte also would welcome another chance at Howard.

"I want to beat them by more than one goal," said Otte, who had 20 saves. "Howard's little win streak has come to an end now that River Hill is here. In the words of our principal, Mr. Scott Pfeifer, we're starting a new tradition."

River Hill (5-0), a first-year team, stands alone atop the Howard Conference standings of the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League. Howard (5-1) is second. They are the two strongest teams in the conference, and would like another chance to play each other -- in the Central Region playoffs.

Howard has been one of the top county teams for the last three years, reaching the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League semifinals in 1995 and 1996 and last year taking the Howard County Cup.

Atholton gave Howard all it could handle last year. During the regular season, the Raiders led 3-1 before losing, 4-3. And in the championship of the Howard Cup, Atholton led 4-1 only to watch Howard score six unanswered goals.

Five River Hill players were on Atholton's team last year, including Otte.

"I vowed that wasn't going to happen again," Otte said, referring to the Howard comebacks.

But it almost did.

Brad Klukas, another former Atholton player, scored his second straight goal with 6: 03 left in the second period to give River Hill a 3-0 lead. That's when Howard made it interesting.

Kevin Lyons scored with 5: 08 left in the second period. Then, with 11: 53 left, Luke Shagogue, a hat trick-scorer in last year's Howard Cup final, scored to make it 3-2.

"The momentum had changed. We had everything going our way," Shagogue said. "If we had tied it up, I definitely think we would have won. It just didn't happen. We gave it everything. We just couldn't put it in at the end."

Howard put a lot of pressure on the River Hill defense late in the third period, and especially in the last minute, when the Lions replaced goalie Ronny Spano with a sixth skater. Matt Collins made a nice defensive play late, but Otte, mainly, made the difference.

"My goalie was the star of the game," said River Hill coach Mike Hendrix, who was an assistant coach last year at Atholton. "I gave him the [game] puck. He came up with some big saves."

Rand agreed. "Their goalie came up big."

Otte agreed that the last couple of minutes were intense.

"I was just telling everybody to send the puck down," Otte said. "They were taking a lot of shots, and I was just trying to keep the puck in view."

River Hill opened the scoring with 1: 34 left in the first period on the picture-perfect play. Duncan Brooks, deep in his own end, fired a great pass to the streaking Brookes Brumstead, who got behind the Howard defense and beat Spano one-on-one.

Klukas made it 2-0 five minutes into the second period, and his eventual game-winner -- with 6: 03 left in that period -- came on a power play. Only seven seconds later, Howard would have been at even strength.

Rand said River Hill did a good job controlling Rob Robb and Finnish exchange student Kalle Koski, two of Howard's top skaters.

"They didn't give them [Robb and Koski] any room to operate," Rand said. "There was someone on them all the time."

Everyone -- from the many fans to players -- agreed it was a great game to play and watch.

"This was a real competitive game," Klukas said. "It's nice to play against good hockey players."

"It was that close of a game," said Hendrix, referring to the final score. "Those are two very good hockey teams. That was a hockey game you wanted to come watch."

Playoff picture

So how would River Hill and Howard meet again? The winner of the Howard Conference (probably River Hill) and Independent Conference (probably Frederick) will automatically advance to the Central Region playoffs.

The next two teams with the best records from the Howard and Independent conferences also will advance. Howard should be one of them and would play River Hill in either the semifinal or final.

The two Central Region finalists will advance to the MSHL Tier II championship playoffs, along with the winners from the Southern and Northern regions. Those four teams will compete for the Chesapeake Cup.

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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