Honeymoon’s over. Yes, the Elizabethtown Area High School ice hockey club finally broke its multi-year losing streak with a 7-5 win over Central York on Wednesday, Nov. 6, the first victory for the team in 39 games. Now it’s time to shift focus to the rest of the season.
The Bears have continued to play hard since then, but another win has not come. They fell in back-to-back tough games to two of the better Viola Division teams in the CPIHL, consisting of a 3-2 loss to Twin Valley in the home opener at Klick Lewis Arena in Palmyra on Wednesday, Nov. 13, and a 3-1 loss to Penn Manor at Lancaster Ice Rink on Friday, Nov. 15.
“The three things we talk about is playing hard, playing smart and playing as a team,” first-year head coach Scott Cranston said. “I don’t think anybody can look at our first five games we’re not doing those three things. We’ve lost three games by (two) goals (or less), tied a game and won a game by two, so we’re being very competitive. The kids are playing hard, but we’re not getting a lot of breaks.
Outside of an Elizabethtown goal from Austin DiPofi just over a minute into the game, the first period against Twin Valley was a defensive slugfest, with the Raiders having just 8 shots on goal, compared to 5 for the Bears. However, things took a turn in the second.
With just over seven minutes left in the period, Jake Spina tied the game at 1-1 for Twin Valley. Sam Leone would give Twin Valley the lead off an assist combination from Koby Howat and Luke Mohan shortly thereafter. Later, with just 10 seconds on the clock, Howat took passes from Spina and Bryce Doherty during a power play and scored to put the Raiders up 3-1.
The Bears did not give in. With 11 minutes to go and on the wrong end of another power play, Caden Nagel delivered a beautiful pass to Tyler Lawer for a short-handed goal to narrow it to 3-2. However, Elizabethtown could not get the equalizer from there. Goalie Kaden Rhyder finished with 34 saves. Caleb Dinsdale had 25 for the Raiders.
The first period between the Bears and Penn Manor went similarly to the Twin Valley game. Elizabethtown had an 8-to-4 shot advantage, but neither team was able to find the net. Kalvin Kowal finally broke through on a short-handed goal midway through the second for the Comets, who held the Bears to just 3 shots on goal during the period.
Early in the third, it appeared that Elizabethtown had turned things around. Avery Merlo took a Carter Lutter pass and found an opening to tie the game at 1-1. Just 25 seconds later, Penn Manor went back up in wild fashion; a Lukas Kowal shot ricocheted perfectly onto Rhyder’s left shoulder, dropping in for the go-ahead goal.
“Without Kaden, we wouldn’t have even been in the game,” Cranston said. “I think they had a lot of quality chances. For a ninth-grader, he played really well. He kept us alive, and when we tied it, we thought ‘OK, here we go,’ and then we had that bad bounce. All the great saves he had, and that one little window opened up.”
The Comets were later able to take advantage of a lengthy power play following a skirmish that led to penalties on both sides, with Max Jesberger scoring off assists from Liam Besecker and Kalvin Kowal. They coasted to victory from there. Cara Jandzio had 14 saves in the net for Penn Manor, while Rhyder finished with 28 for Elizabethtown.
“I give Penn Manor a lot of credit,” Cranston said. “They’re a great team, well-coached with a lot of depth. We had an unnecessary penalty toward the end of the game that hurt us. We got to be a little smarter than that; that’s something we talked about in the locker room after the game. We’re certainly doing better than last year, and I think they all realize that. Now, we have to learn how to win late.”
Despite the losses, the Bears have shown out well through five games, even with a 1-3-1 record. They notably had to go without DiPofi and CJ Samo, the team’s leading scorers, vs. Penn Manor since the two had travel team commitments. Offensively, they’ve already improved immensely from last season. Through the first five games of 2018, Elizabethtown had just 6 goals, compared to 16 this time around. The defense has been terrific as well, giving up just 18 goals thus far. Rhyder has stopped 140 shots in total, good for third in both the Viola Division and the CPIHL.
“We just have good cohesion back there,” Cranston said. “We’ve been putting some of our more experienced players on the back end, so a lot of the younger kids are playing forward. I’m a big believer in focusing on defense. I’d rather have these low-scoring games instead of five, six or seven goals on each side.”
The schedule won’t get any easier for Elizabethtown. The Bears will return to Klick Lewis Arena on Friday, Nov. 22, to face Cedar Crest, who is currently second in the division with a 5-1 record, the only loss coming to undefeated West Shore. Still, every game has been tight so far, and if the Bears continue to stay competitive, anything is possible.
“We’ll go in and play the role of the underdog,” Cranston said. “I think when we play the Cedar Crests and Warwicks, the kids know that they’re overlooked. But they thrive on that, and they look forward to having that challenge. We’ll regroup on Sunday at practice, we’ll get Austin and CJ back, and we’ll match up the best we can. We just have to play smart.”