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Dow hockey rallies from three-goal deficit but falls 4-3 to Heritage in OT

By Fred Kelly MDN, 12/24/15, 7:45AM EST


SAGINAW — Wednesday’s hockey game between Dow High and Saginaw Heritage didn’t mean a whole lot in the greater scheme of things. And in the Saginaw Valley League chase, it meant even less.

But you’d never know that based on the intensity of the players and fans alike as the game headed into the stretch run.

The host Hawks jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead, the Chargers battled all the way back to tie it in the third period, and then the Hawks snapped a long scoring drought with an overtime goal to edge Dow 4-3 in nonleague action at the Saginaw Bay Ice Arena.

Heritage improves to 5-0-0, while Dow drops to 6-4-0 after losing in OT for the third time already this season.

Although the game doesn’t impact the SVL standings, Chargers’ coach Dick Blasy said that the game was a memorable one.

“I think we started to build momentum as the game went on, and then after that it was just a fun game to be a part of. It was fun to watch,” said Blasy adding with a chuckle, “ ... It’s not good for my blood pressure, but it was fun.”

The Chargers started out looking lethargic, as Heritage passed the puck very well and outskated Dow early, scoring three times in the span of 5:26, prompting Blasy to use his timeout. After that, the Chargers settled down and played much better as the game progressed — and the intensity increased accordingly.

Over the final few minutes of regulation and throughout overtime, the fans got louder, the hitting got harder, play got faster, and the atmosphere had a decided playoff feel.

“Both teams had their chances to win it, and it’s just unfortunate that we came out on the wrong side,” said Blasy. “But I’m proud of the boys. They dug deep and got tough and got physical and got chippy and just found a way to grind our way back into it.”

The Hawks got on the board only 5:13 into the contest when, following a faceoff in the Dow zone, Hunter Parasiliti outbattled two Chargers in front of the net and flicked a wrister past Dow goaltender Dominic Nittolo for a 1-0 lead.

A little over three minutes later, Heritage made it 2-0 when, after Nittolo had made two saves in quick succession, Zach Dornseifer gathered in the second rebound, skated behind the net, and scored a wraparound goal at 8:12.

Then, less than two minutes later, Chris Cornford made a perfect pass ahead to Spencer Vondette, who skated in alone and flipped a wrister high past Nittolo for a 3-0 lead which the Hawks would eventually take into the first intermission.

“You always worry as a coach when the boys don’t have school and then have to play a game, because the routine’s changed,” Blasy admitted. “In that first period, we looked like a team that had the day off.”

From there, though, Nittolo locked down and made several solid saves to keep the Hawks at bay, while his teammates gradually began peppering Heritage goalie Danny Yockey and creating numerous scoring opportunities.

That hard work finally paid off for Dow at 6:58 of the second period when Travis Nemeth received a nice pass from Johnny Wilson and slipped a wrist shot from close range past Yockey to cut it to 3-1.

The Chargers then opened the third period with 1:54 left on a previous power play, and they capitalized 59 seconds into the period. Yockey stopped a shot by Alex Farrell, but Farrell whacked away at the rebound and eventually got it past Yockey to slice the deficit to 3-2.

Just under three minutes later, Dow tied it when Nemeth collected a rebound off of Carter Bean’s shot and slid it past Yockey, who was out of position, tying the score at 3-3 at 3:54 of the third.

“We just have to keep going back to keeping it simple and putting shots on net,” said Blasy. “ ... They (Heritage) have a good goalie, so you just have to put some junk on net and hope for those second and third chances.”

For his part, Hawks’ coach JJ Bamberger was not particularly pleased with how his team played, even when Heritage built an early lead.

“I didn’t think we played a good first (period), either. I told the guys when (Dow) called the timeout, ‘Don’t let the score fool you. I don’t think you’re playing very well.’ We got a couple of bounces that ended up going into the net,” Bamberger noted. 

“And then in the second and third period ... we just looked (out of sync),” he added.

Dow had a golden opportunity to take its first lead of the game with about five and a half minutes left when Wilson threaded a beautiful pass through two defenders ahead to Nemeth. Nemeth skated untouched into the Heritage zone, deked Yockey, and then missed a shot from point-blank range just wide right.

“It looked like (Nemeth) had (Yockey) beat,” Blasy said. “ ... He (Nemeth) said (the puck) was rolling (on his stick) for a while, but that’s hockey. Sometimes you get the bounces, and sometimes you don’t.”

Following a high-energy, fast-paced final five minutes of regulation, the teams went into overtime still knotted at 3-3, and Heritage came out swinging.

The Hawks kept the puck in Dow’s end for most of the first two minutes of OT and generated three good scoring chances before the Chargers responded with a flourish in Heritage’s end moments later.

Finally, at 5:12 of OT, Heritage’s Harrison Jesko fed the puck ahead to Sam Spaedt, who skated up the right wing on a partial breakaway and flipped a hard wrister on net. Nittolo got a hand on the puck, but it deflected off his glove and into the left corner of the net to end the game in dramatic fashion.

“I thought we competed really hard in the (overtime),” said Bamberger. “ ... That’s when we started skating and playing like we’re supposed to play and competing.”

Both goalies were solid, as Yockey stopped 25 of 28 shots for the Hawks, while Nittolo saved 22 of 26 shots and was impressive in net after Heritage’s first-period outburst.

“We had some point-blank chances halfway through that overtime, and they had some chances, too,” Blasy noted. “I thought it was just two good hockey teams playing a good game.”

Spaedt had two assists to go with his goal for Heritage, while Gavin Dietrich, Brandon Ashley, and Yockey each added an assist for the Hawks.

For Dow, Nemeth, Bean, and Nick Sleeper each added an assist.

The Chargers are off until Jan. 6 when they host Flint Powers in their SVL opener.

“What we really need to work on is just that consistency of keeping it simple and (not overthinking the game),” said Blasy. “I know that sounds easy to do, but sometimes guys try to do too much. They just have to play within the system.”

Looking ahead to the start of the Valley schedule in 2016, Bamberger said he thinks the league is up for grabs.

“We know our league’s going to be tough,” he said. “ ... I think we have a good, deep team, and I think there are a lot of teams like that (in the Valley). I think (the league title) is going to come down to a couple of breaks in the end.”