WEST DUNDEE – Although Crystal Lake South trailed by a pair of goals late in the second period, the Gators felt they had played Highland Park fairly even.
The last 2 minutes of the period, however, proved deflating for South.
Highland Park scored a shorthanded goal without touching the puck itself, then added a last-minute goal to grab firm control. South scored early in the third, but it was all the Gators could muster in a 4-1 loss in an Illinois High School Hockey League interdivision game Sunday at the Leafs Ice Centre.
“We kind of sat in silence after that,” Gators center Austin Wiggerman said. “We cleared our heads. It seemed like we were going to come back, but we just couldn’t get anything going.”
Wiggerman scored 1:27 into the third period, but the Gators (26-9-1 overall, 19-6-1 Mikita West Division) could not get any more shots past Giants goalie Ben Berger, who had 24 saves. Highland Park (29-8-4, 19-5-2 Hull East) was in third place in its division and fifth overall, while South is second in the Mikita West and was fourth overall.
“We got pumped up after that goal,” Gators center Matt Kinker said. “Their goalie was good, he made some good saves.”
South was trying to cut Highland Park’s 2-0 lead in half late in the second period on a power play when the Gators got their worst break of the game. Kinker tried a cross-ice pass in South's end and the puck glanced off one of goalie Cory Wasilewski’s skates into the net.
“It was my fault,” Kinker said. “I felt pressure coming and it took a wrong bounce. My teammates really picked me up after that.”
Wasilewski finished with 27 saves for South, which still is well in control of second place in the Mikita West. Crossover games count in the division standings.
“The puck kind of bounced their way,” said Gators assistant coach Geoff Price, who was filling in for head coach Rich Perillo, who was out of town Sunday. “They got that fluky goal. Our guys came out in the third and didn’t phone it in.”
Alex Block scored a pair of goals for the Giants, while Berger stopped South’s leading scorer Jake Bigos on a breakaway early and continued coming up big.
“[Bergen] is coming off a start against Deerfield where the first three shots went in,” Highland Park coach Sean Freeman said. “Normally, we alternate goalies [with Bergen and Ethan Fischbein], but that’s not good for the playoffs. He said he wanted to be the No. 1. We want one of them to take the reins and be the lead jockey. He’s smart and mature and he knew what he had to do.”
Despite the loss, Wiggerman saw positives.
“It’s going to be a real good game (to look back on),” Wiggerman said. “We have to think about how hard it’s going to be in the playoffs and how we have to put forth the effort and pick it up a notch.”