CRYSTAL LAKE – During a timeout with 15 seconds remaining in the third period, Prairie Ridge goalie Alex Hentz began psyching himself up for what could lie ahead.
“I was thinking, ‘We have those 15 seconds and then, cool, we’ll go to a shootout,’ ” Hentz said.
A furious 4-second scramble in the Wolves’ end wiped out that scenario. After the faceoff, Loyola’s Michael Donato got his stick on the puck, which ricocheted off Prairie Ridge defenseman Pat Biewald’s skate and slipped under Hentz.
The puck came to rest, barely over the goal line, on the goal net. The Wolves were stunned, while Loyola Gold’s players celebrated their 3-2 Scholastic Hockey League victory Sunday at the Crystal Ice House.
“I’m not really sure what happened,” said Prairie Ridge center Kyle Buresch, who won the faceoff after Loyola’s timeout with 15 seconds to go. “It was in the middle and squirted out.”
Buresch went to his knees and tried to tap the puck to a teammate. Hentz, who had 36 saves, was not sure what happened either.
“It looked like it went off someone’s skate,” he said. “It took a weird bounce. I still didn’t think it was all the way in. Apparently it snuck through, barely.”
Prairie Ridge (21-16-4 overall, 8-8-2 SHL) had won six consecutive league games before Sunday. Left wing Gavin Tarazi flipped the puck from behind the net, off of goalie Jordy Reizen’s pad for the first goal 3:43 into the game.
Buresch scored off a rebound from Biewald’s shot 3 minutes later for a 2-0 lead.
“We’re starting to click and they’re working hard,” Wolves coach Rick Rewiako said. “One through 20, on paper, [Loyola] is probably better than us, but our kids are working harder than they have all year. We’re getting ourselves prepared for the [SHL] playoffs and the state tournament. Loyola’s a top-three team in the state.”
Loyola Gold (20-13-2, 11-4-0) tied the score by the end of the first period, but neither team could score again until Donato’s game-winner.
“It shows the character of our team,” Loyola coach D.J. LaVarre said. “Down 2-0, you can either quit or strap it on and get to work. They kept on working and working and working. It was a great game. Both goalies played very well. It wasn’t a great goal [to win], but it was still a goal.”
Prairie Ridge left wing Pat O’Connor had an opportunity to put the Wolves ahead with 10:20 remaining in the third period. Biewald sent a long pass down the middle of the ice that O’Connor took in on a breakaway. Reizen stopped him, but O’Connor was taken down from behind and awarded a penalty shot. Reizen got his leg pad on O’Connor’s shot to kick it away.
“We played great,” Buresch said. “That first period we got two goals and played at a high tempo. We tried to stay good on defense and block shots. [Loyola] deserved it. They played a really great game, too.”
Loyola held a 36-15 advantage in shots on goal, but Hentz thought he played one of his better games as he helped keep the score tied.
“I need the defense in front of me helping me out,” Hentz said. “I was just trying to track the puck and see where they were going to shoot. We can’t hang our heads, we played a great game. We have to move on and get better.”