Reeths-Puffer goalie Aaron Andrews (33) stops a shot off the stick of Mona Shores forward Gage Veltman during last Saturday’s regional title game at L.C. Walker Arena. Defending for R-P on the play are Rogan McEvoy (18), Jeremy Joyce
MUSKEGON — The Reeths-Puffer Rockets wanted to battle Mona Shores for the regional title heading into the playoffs.
“For Muskegon hockey, we wanted to play Mona Shores here,” R-P coach Eric Sikkenga said. “Mona’s the O-K Conference Tier 1 champion, and we got that opportunity. That doesn’t mean we thought we’d win, it was just the right thing for us to do.”
R-P got its wish, and took full advantage of its chance last Saturday, defeating Mona Shores 5-3 at L.C. Walker Arena for the 15-year-old program’s first-ever regional championship.
For Sikkenga, who has been coaching the Rockets for 13 of those 15 years, getting that first regional title was clearly a tremendous point of pride.
“It’s a program win,” Sikkenga said. “We’ve been swimming uphill for many years. We’ve built this program from the ground up, pounded sticks and nails.”
The Rockets and Sailors had already played once, a 4-3 Rockets’ win in overtime back in February, but both teams still spent the first period feeling one another out. R-P’s usual lightning-fast tempo was absent in the first 17 minutes, as neither team wanted to be the first to make a mistake. The game was scoreless when the teams went to their locker rooms.
“We play better when we’re fast, when we’re loose, because we’re a high-speed, high-tempo team,” Sikkenga said. “Mona Shores has the ability to make us play on our own end a lot more than we normally do. We were able to hold them off.”
About halfway through the second period, the floodgates finally opened when co-captain Dean Griffin fired a slapshot into the net despite every effort given by Jonah Shafer to stop him. Griffin’s score was set up by a terrific play from Tommy Munroe. Munroe sent a beautiful pass up the ice while falling that found Griffin in stride for the goal.
The tally was the first of seven goals scored in 9:46 of game time, as the two potent offenses began to make their marks on the game.
Munroe and Griffin joined Alex Lewandoski on the top line for the game, as Sikkenga, with the benefit of being the home team and getting the last line change, decided to put his most physical forwards up against the Mona Shores top line of Reed Hrynewich, Adam Ulfsax and Gage Veltman.
“I can’t say enough how important the coin toss for home team was because of getting that last line change and having that matchup,” Sikkenga said. “I challenged them before the game to keep that line to two points or less and we’ll win. They kept them to two points, and not only that, Dean Griffin comes in with two goals, assisted by the other two guys. They played even against their top line.”
The clutch effort from that line enabled the Rockets’ top-scoring trio of Kyle Kendra, Josh Smith and Jeremy Joyce to go goal-hunting, and Smith responded with a hat trick. Joyce and Kendra each had three assists. Kendra’s beautiful assist to Smith on a two-on-one break enabled the Rockets to go ahead 3-1 in the second period.
Shores responded with a goal late in the second, and each team scored within the first minute of the third period to make it 4-3 with 16 minutes to play. The game as tense for the next nine-plus minutes.
“We really preach that it’s about the goal after the next goal,” Sikkenga said. “You have to win by two, because you have to score and then you have to put another one in.”
Reeths-Puffer got that other one with 6:35 left in the game, as Griffin skated in and went top-shelf on Sailors’ goalie Nate Rabbitt. Munroe assisted once again.
While the Rockets’ offense generally gets the headlines, it was goalie Aaron Andrews that earned top marks in the game. The Sailors outshot R-P 39-29, but Andrews proved up to the task, turning away 36 of those shots. The Rockets’ defensemen were equally impressive.
“Aaron was fantastic goaltending,” Sikkenga said. “He was the difference-maker. Mona has a high-powered offense and they have kids that know how to win. They just kept coming. Our defense stood strong.”
E. Kentwood ends
BIG RAPIDS — After fighting hard to get their quarterfinal game to overtime Wednesday night, the Reeths-Puffer Rockets were deflated when East Kentwood scored the winning goal just 47 seconds into the extra period, ending their season with a 6-5 loss at Ferris State University.
R-P had trailed 5-2 late in the second period before roaring back with three unanswered goals to force overtime.
Jeremy Joyce pocketed a hat trick for the Rockets, all within 11 minutes of action in the second and third periods. Alex Lewandoski notched the tying score off a Tommy Munroe assist with 7:06 to play. Dean Griffin had R-P’s first goal of the game from an assist by Brenden Alderink.
Josh Smith and Kyle Kendra each had two assists as the Rockets ended their season with a record of 25-3-1, school records for both most wins and fewest defeats.
Cam Morris and Tyler Layle each scored twice for the Falcons, including Layle’s winning tally in the first minute of overtime.