WEST GOSHEN — Before the Thanksgiving break, West Chester East believed Downingtown East was going to be an early season test.
The Cougars proved to be the tough team the Vikings were expecting as they beat East, 3-2, Monday night at Ice Line for East’s first loss of the season.
“I have nothing but respect for West Chester East and their players and their coach,” said D-East head coach Dave Hendricks. “They come out and play hard and strong. It’s a good confidence booster.”
D-East (4-0-1), which itself hasn’t had a loss this season, has won the last three games after a tie with non-division Ridley in the second game of the year.
Since that time, the Cougars have been finding their team identity and getting stronger with each passing game.
“We played very good team (defense) and when we did make mistakes, even though we scrambled a little bit, we were able to contain and subside the rush,” Hendricks said.
D-East forward Justin Cohn said it was an enjoyable game to have two top teams without a loss facing each other.
“It was fun playing out there,” said D-East forward Justin Cohn. “We had good team defense and our goalie played a heck of a game out there. It was just fun.”
It wasn’t the defense itself which frustrated East (6-1), but the team’s entire defensive play which went into ensuring the win.
“We have strong defensemen who can carry the puck and skate, but our defense is six guys on the ice with a goalie,” Hendricks said. “Everybody knows they are responsible to play defense. Everybody knows they are supposed to be playing tough in the defensive zone. Our offense comes from defense and that’s where we are.”
East got off to a quick start with a goal from Dylan McLaughlin 100 seconds into the game to make it 1-0, but D-East took over in the second and continued to out shoot the Vikings until late in the third period, tacking on three goals from Luca Pisani and Cohn to give the Cougars a 3-1 lead.
“It’s my team giving me the puck and setting me up,” Cohn said. “I’m just finishing them. It’s basically my team setting me up.”
Though Cohn is humble about his success this season with his four points in five games, Hendricks feels that Cohn is making a name for himself this season.
“Cohn is finally starting to shake the legacy of his brother off in terms of him being his own man,” Hendricks said. “People don’t like to play against him. They come up to me all the time and say they don’t want to play against him. He’s the most determined player that I’ve had in a long time. He gets under the other team’s skin and all he does is work hard.”
Seconds after Billy Kyle’s goal brought West Chester East to within 3-2, D-East goaltender Jeff Cummings made the save of the game when he kicked his leg out at the last possible second to stop a goal from going into a wide-open half of the net.
With the Vikings trailing in the final four minutes, things became hectic as East pressed and threw everything it had at Cummings.
“I have to credit my goaltender,” Hendricks said. “He has put together two, back-to-back amazing games where he has save our butt.”
The final two minutes of the game saw the Vikings pull goaltender Joe Stacy for the extra attacker.
“I think it was survival mode for both teams,” Hendricks said. “Both teams were absolutely just trying to out-match and out-will the other. It shows how close it is because the last four minutes basically were a tie where you have the best guys on each team going against each other and nothing really happens other than a tie.”
In a division filled with great teams and tough opposition, D-East can use the win as a way to see how it stacks up against other Ches-Mont teams, especially with the schedule the Cougars have for 2015-16.
“We had mentioned last year in the playoffs that the Ches-Mont is an incredibly tough division,” Hendricks said. “We spend all year beating each other up and preparing each other for the greater goals that all these teams have. We play an incredibly tough schedule this year. This is a measuring stick. They’re a very good team with great players and a great coach. It’s a great thing for these guys to experience and to gut out a win like this.”