Playing in the Cancer Awareness game, held annually between the University School boys’ hockey team and the Homestead team, the Wildcats lost to the Highlanders 4-3 on Tuesday, January 31st before a standing room only crowd at USM.
The two neighboring rivals meet each year to honor coaches on present and past teams who fought bouts against the dreaded disease: Homestead’s present coach, Tony Navarre, and former USM coaches Cal Roadhouse and Yves Preston have suffered cancer’s effects, as have many others in the communities of the two schools. Both teams wore special jerseys with the ribbon that’s emblematic of the fight against cancer embossed on the front.
The Highlanders took the lead on the game’s first shot and led 2-0 after the first period. The Wildcats rallied and tied it at 2-2 with goals in the second period. Homestead then took the lead with two goals in the first half of the third period and fended off the Wildcats in the game’s final moments to take home the win.
“As a coach, you need to look in the mirror and figure out your problems,” said Jason Wood, USM’s head coach. “We have been a terrible first period team all season. As such I need to find a way to fix that. Discipline has been a problem all year as well. We have five players who have 24 or more penalty minutes. That's not ok. To go down then battle back from a 2-0 deficit and totally dominate the second period only to take a penalty at the end and then add an unsportsmanlike to create a 5 on 3 situation, well, that's disappointing. Scoring on that irresponsible play gives Homestead the game. Credit them for taking advantage. The season isn't over; our goals are still in front of us. It's just time to fix our issues.”
The Highlanders scored just 26 seconds into the game. They quickly got the puck into the USM zone and forechecked fiercely. Pierce Stastney chased the puck down along the lower left boards. A defenseman knocked the puck from Stastney’s stick. It bounced to PJ Quale below the goal line. Quale whirled out front and attempted to pass the puck across the crease to Jackson Katz. The puck caromed off a defender and past USM’s goaltender, Frank Fee for the goal.
Homestead went further ahead at 12:46. Defenseman Hank McKeegan stopped a USM clearing attempt at the top of the left circle and threw the puck toward the net. It hit a defenseman’s leg and popped to Quale in the circle. He immediately lined a pass across the slot to Stastney who one-timed the puck past Fee.
The Wildcats edged closer in the opening minute of the second period. Skating into the Homestead zone on a three-on-two, Brandon McGill tipped the puck to Nick Epperson just inside the blue line. Epperson continued along the right boards then zoomed a pass to Logan Geisness in the low slot. Geisness took a shot that Ty Barnhill, the Highlanders’ goalie, stopped, but Geisness kept coming, and he jammed the puck under Barnhill and into the net at 0:53.
USM tied the score late in the period while on a power play. Off a faceoff in the Highlanders’ zone, the puck went to Brandon McGill on the left mid-boards. He passed along the boards to Geisness who skated toward the blue line, then passed the puck to defenseman Kylar Fenton in the center of the line. Fenton blazed a low-flying wrist shot into the net at 13:32.
Homestead re-took the lead on a five-on-three power play in the opening minute of the third period. The Highlanders got the puck into the USM zone and got to work. After a shot bounced off Fee below the goal line, Katz got it and centered it to Stastney in the high slot. Stastney avoided a check by stepping to his right. He then passed the puck back to Katz near the far post and Katz whipped it into the net at 0:30.
The Highlanders scored what would be the winning goal at 8:23. Statsney got the puck near the Homestead blue line. As he skated into center ice, he sent a pass to Quale. Quale sped down the left side and into the USM zone. He cut toward the middle. A defenseman hit him causing the puck to bounce to Katz. Katz moved toward the net then passed the puck back to Quale in the left circle. Quale buried a shot into the upper corner over Fee’s glove for the goal.
Barnhill and his cohorts kept their poise against the 8thranked Wildcats. Barnhill stopped a breakaway by Epperson with about 7:00 minutes left and he and his teammates held the Wildcats at bay until late in the period.
USM made the game even more tense with a goal at 14:22. Forechecking in the Highlanders end, Epperson got the puck in the left corner and cycled it to McGill. McGill spotted Robby Newton sprinting into the zone and gunned the puck to him. Newton swiftly blasted a shot past Barnhill to make it 4-3.
Barnhill and his cohorts foiled the Wildcats’ attempts after USM pulled Fee for a sixth shooter and held on for the win.
Homestead is now 18-3. USM is 14-6. The Wildcats play another North Shore rival, Cedarburg, in a non-conference game at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, February 3rd at USM.