WEST GOSHEN — Playing in the last game before the Thanksgiving break, West Chester East had plenty to be thankful for, including a 5-3 win over West Chester Henderson, keeping them atop the Ches-Mont conference in a Ches-Mont showdown Wednesday night at Ice Line.
But it didn’t come easily as it took East (6-1 overall) until just over halfway into the game to start to put the game out of reach for Henderson (3-2 Ches-Mont, 4-2 overall).
“It’s never an easy game against a rival like Henderson or Rustin,” said East head coach Drew Cox. “No matter what each team has, they’re going to bring everything they have to those games and it’s going to be a war. In the first period, I told them this was going to be a 15-round fight – it was going to be a fight to the end.”
The boxing match started at the drop of the puck with both teams trading punches, or goals, within in the first five minutes.
It wasn’t until the second period when things shifted in favor of East, albeit on a penalty kill.
Finding themselves on a 5-on-3 for 1:33, East not only killed off both penalties, but also scored at the hands of senior forward Mike Roberta.
“(Penalties were) the No. 1 thing we went over and needed to get under control,” Cox said. “Even when we did take some penalties – when we were down 5-on-3 – we still stayed with our penalty kill and played a very disciplined, smart game and hard work and that’s what you need every time you play one of these rival games, especially Henderson.”
At that point, trailing 4-2, Henderson coach Scott DiRico pulled senior goaltender Tyler Bonjo in favor of Connor Carroll after allowing the four goals on 17 shots.
Henderson pulled to within one two minutes later off a screened shot from the point from junior defenseman Dylan Knox, but East stayed with their game in the third and kept Henderson off the scoreboard.
“At that point, you don’t want to sag back and give up rush after rush, wave after wave, because that’s just playing with fire,” Cox said. “We wanted to stay aggressive. If they’re not in our zone, they can’t score, so we wanted to be smart, keep the puck in their zone, keep possession, cycle – make them work to get the puck down the ice. If you stop thinking for one second, they’re behind you on an odd-man rush and the puck is in the net.
“We had a great game from our goalie (Joe Stacy). The smart, disciplined, hard-working game we got from our skaters and the great game in goal added up to the win. I just put trust in the players that they would get the job done and they did – beautifully.”
With the help of Stacy’s 31-save performance on the night, Roberta sealed the win with a breakaway goal with 3:27 left in the game.
“Two big goals definitely helped to get the puck moving down there as a team,” said East senior defenseman Bill Stewart. “It was a team effort all around.”
The win keeps East at the top of the standings and they now pull four points ahead of second-place Downingtown West.
“We are at a great place,” Roberta said. “It’s still early in the season, but we’re right up on top where we want to be. That’s all that counts.”