The Coffman Rocks beat the Gahanna Lincoln Golden Lions 5-1 Friday night, notching their 10th win of the season and 6th win in the last 7 games. Going into the holiday break, the Rocks are in first place in the Red Division of the Capital Hockey Conference.
For the second game in a row, senior Nate Babner scored two goals, and Friday night added a pair of assists as he led all scorers with 4 points.
With three and a half minutes to play in the first, it was Babner who got the Rocks off and running. Coffman defenseman Thomas Tate carried the puck to the bottom of the Lions left face off circle where he ripped a shot and created chaos in the Gahanna crease.
Gahanna goalie Chris Henestofel made the save, but the Rocks’ Austen Hayden got the rebound and fired the puck again. Somewhere in the blur of bodies in front of him Henestofel dropped his stick, and could only swat at the rebound shot Babner roofed over his right arm. After one period of play it was the Rocks 1, Gahanna 0.
But the Lions came out roaring in the second. Less than a minute in, Gahanna’s Zach Chapman raced up the right side of the ice on a partial breakaway. But eight feet from the net, just as Chapman was winding up to take a shot, the Rocks’ Nathan Rusin came from nowhere to break up the play. It would have been easy for Rusin to grab the Lions forward and take a penalty, but he didn’t. Using the length of his stick, Rusin reached around Chapman and, at the last second, knocked the puck into the corner.
Undeterred, the Lions continued their attack, and less than three minutes later would tie the game.
Gahanna’s Colby Hanna took control of the puck in the neutral zone and bolted up the right boards. A Rocks defenseman tried to hip check Hanna, but he pushed through it and skated deep into Coffman territory.
Having drawn coverage, Hanna dumped the puck to the Lions’ Evan Kraus who was at the right post of the Rocks net. Kraus slid a perfect pass into the crease where Gahanna’s Jake Chobany chipped it in. With 11:39 left in the second it was Rocks 1, Gahanna 1.
But midway through the second the Rocks would regain the lead on a nearly identical play. After hemming the Lions in their own zone, the Rocks’ Nate Babner took control of the puck in the right corner behind the Gahanna net. There, Babner patiently waited for Ryon Malas to make a move. As Malas flew into the high slot, Babner hit him with a beautiful pass and Malas knocked it home. With 7:13 left in the second, it was the Rocks 2, Gahanna 1.
Just after the ensuing face off the Rocks took a boarding penalty and it looked like Gahanna would use the power play to regain momentum.
But just :25 seconds into their man advantage, the Lions committed a penalty of their own. Erik Ferrin was called for holding, and as he made his way to the penalty box, Gahanna’s Skyy Goebel let the referees know what the thought of their call.
The refs were not amused. Goebel was given a 10 minute unsportsman-like penalty, knocking one of the Lions best players out of action at a crucial point in the game.
Then, with 4:06 left in the second, the Rocks would extend their lead on a beautiful short-handed goal. Again, it was Babner and Malas who tormented the Lions - only this time it was Malas with the sweet feed and Babner with the goal, his second of the game. That made it Rocks 3, Gahanna 1.
They say a two-goal lead is the hardest lead to protect in hockey, and with 2 and a half minutes left in the second, the Rocks nearly gave up a goal that would have cut their lead in half. The Lions were swarming the Rocks net and rattled off a series of shots.
But in a span of :03 seconds, Rocks goalie Grant Powell somehow covered 16 feet of ice as he slid side to side to make back to back saves. That bolstered the Coffman defense the rest of the period and the Rocks would head to the locker room up 3-1.
Just :40 seconds into the third, the Lions were on the attack again. Gahanna’s Mason Settle used his speed to separate from the pack, but as he closed in on the Rocks net, Coffman defenseman Tyler Burich made a huge play, darting in front of Settle to knock the puck away and diffuse the threat.
Then, with 10 minutes to play, the Rocks got a little breathing room. After the Coffman defense repeatedly held the puck in the Lions zone, Coffman’s Nate Babner took a pass on the left side and fired a shot from 25 feet out. Gahanna goalie Chris Henestofel saved that shot, but the rebound went the Rocks’ Tyler Burich. Burich fed a pass to defenseman Thomas Tate, who joined the attack and roofed a shot that would make it Rocks 4, Gahanna 1.
Despite their 3 goal lead, the Rocks began to get into penalty trouble and if not for the remarkable play of the penalty killing units, momentum might well have shifted.
With 9:20 left, a Coffman defenseman was whistled for boarding. The Rocks were scrambling in their own end, when the puck squirted loose from a Gahanna player. Coffman sophomore Alex Schepflin picked up the puck and skated it the length of the ice.
Behind the Gahanna net, Schepflin pinned the puck to the board with his right skate and took a beating from four Lions players who were desperate to get it back. Schepflin’s incredible effort allowed the Rocks to get fresh troops on the ice, as he single-handedly killed off :13 crucial seconds of the Gahanna power play.
Then, with just over 3 minutes to play, another Rocks penalty sent a player to the box for interference. But another brilliant short-handed goal would put the game out of reach.
While killing off the penalty, the Rocks’ Austen Hayden stole the puck in the Lions zone and streaked up the right side of the ice, side-stepping two Gahanna defensemen along the way. Deep in the Gahanna zone, Hayden lasered a pass back to Rocks’ captain JT Latshaw, who was all alone at the top of the right face off dot.
Latshaw skated three strides to his left, then toyed with the Gahanna goalie for a moment before burying a rocket of a wrist shot high into the net. The Rocks moved to 4-1 in conference play, and 10-4 overall as the game ended with the scoreboard reading Rocks 5, Gahanna 1.