Usually, guests will bring a housewarming gift when visiting a friend's new home.
But on Saturday, the Baldwin-Woodville Blackhawks left their presents at home and instead inflicted a 3-1 decision over the host West Salem Panthers, who were playing the first game at the brand-spanking new Panther Den.
The facility, located just northeast of West Salem HS, features an Olympic size sheet that on a warm winter day played a little slower than usual, and certainly slower than the Panthers' previous home, 'The Meat Locker.'
After some Zamboni issues forced a delay between the final two periods of the JV game, the varsity game puck drop happened 23 minutes late.
Back-to-back penalties put the Panthers on the PK, and the visitors took advantage of the host's hospitality. It only took 34 seconds into the second penalty for the guests to get on the scoreboard.
Zac Holme took a pass from Parker Rens at the left point and fired a shot that beat WS goalie Sterling Skrede high blocker for the early 1-0 lead. Trey Rasmuson also earned an assist on the scoring play, which took place at the 6:58 mark.
The Panthers (2-5) were playing their first home game of the year after playing one 'home' game at the Omni Center and the other five on the road. WS had a power play chance with under five minutes to go but failed to convert.
Then, with just under a minute left in the first, Alex Jackson found himself alone in the slot and skated right to left in front of B-W netminder Zachary Bishop and moved toward the left post, but Bishop kicked out his right black-and-white Bauer Vapor pad and rejected the puck into the corner to keep the home team off the board.
Bishop finished the period with seven saves, while Skrede stopped four pucks on his end.
The Blackhawks (9-1) threatened to declaw the Panthers early in the second with a pair of goals in a span of 94 seconds.
First, Rasmuson put back a rebound from the low right side to make it 2-0 at the 6:07 mark, with an assist to Jacob Sykora. Then Tate Nyhus fired a slapper from the top between the circles to give the Blackhawks a three-goal lead, with help from Jacob Carlson.
After the Panthers took a couple penalties in a span of just under four minutes, WS coach Eric Borre took a time-out to calm his squad down and perhaps give them a bit of a breather.
It worked, at least temporarily.
Twenty seconds into their fourth PK of the afternoon, West Salem's Brendan Holt found himself alone with the puck in the neutral zone and set sail toward the B-W net, only to have Bishop punch the shot aside with his blocker for his second clutch save of the day.
Two minutes later, Jack Sandvig scored an even strength goal when his shot from the left point through traffic beat the Blackhawk goalie to cut the lead to 3-1. Holt and Jackson had helpers on the play with 1:27 left in the middle stanza.
The period ended with that same score, which was a minor miracle for West Salem, as Skrede stopped 20 shots in the period. Bishop enjoyed a quieter period, making five saves.
The final period was a penalty-fest, with six penalties called—four for Baldwin-Woodville and two for West Salem—but neither team scored on the variety of kills, including 5-on-4, 4-on-3, and for good measure, a 5-on-3.
And all with good reason, as Baldwin-Woodville leads all state teams on the penalty kill, stopping 36 of 37 (97.2%) on the year.
As the teams skated to the handshake line, the scoreboard showed a 3-1 Baldwin-Woodville win. Skrede stopped 10 shots in the period for West Salem, finishing with a game total of 34 saves. In victory, Bishop stopped six for a game total of 18.