After beginning the season with wins against three teams outside its division, the Hendricken hockey team finally got to see how it stacked up with the top contenders on Friday when it took on unbeaten La Salle.
The Hawks stack up just fine.
Hendricken fought hard all night with the Rams – who have beaten four-time defending state champion Mount St. Charles twice already this year – and came away with a 2-2 tie.
It was the best anyone has done against La Salle all year, as it moved the Rams’ record to 5-0-1. Hendricken, on the other hand, is now 3-0-1. They are the only two unbeaten teams in Division I.
“I think it was a great game,” Hendricken assistant coach Pat Creamer said. “I think both teams really played well. I thought overall, it was a great high school hockey game.”
The Hawks got two goals from senior forward Robbie Buehrer and 27 saves from goalie Billy Palmer in the game, and they also killed off five La Salle penalties without allowing a goal.
The Rams, to their credit, fought back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, tying the game on a Kevin Divver goal with 7:56 remaining in the third period.
Both teams had chances from there on out to win the game, both in regulation and in overtime, but Palmer and La Salle goaltender Alex Handanyan kept everything out of the net until the final horn sounded.
“So far, we figured this was our biggest game,” Buehrer said. “All week we’ve been working hard. It was exciting today for us. Everyone was excited. We played well. We came close.”
It was Buehrer who got the scoring started.
With the Rams controlling the early portion of the first period, Hendricken got a power play with 9:28 to play after La Salle’s Stephen Rocchio was whistled for roughing. One minute and 32 seconds into the man-advantage, Hendricken’s Nick Bodziony sent a blue line-to-blue line pass right on to the stick of Buehrer, who broke free in the Rams’ zone. He skated around Handanyan and backhanded the puck into the goal for a 1-0 lead.
“With his initial speed, he’s able to get by the D,” Creamer said of Buehrer. “He’s got that burst of speed that’s just fantastic.”
La Salle struck back four minutes later though. With 3:16 left in the period, Rocchio took a pass at the blue line from Bryan Lemos and skated directly at Palmer before tucking the puck by him for the equalizer.
That was the only thing Palmer gave up in a tough period, as La Salle outshot Hendricken 9-6 early on and clearly had the better of the opportunities.
“Billy Palmer did a fantastic job,” Creamer said. “Absolutely a fantastic job. I couldn’t ask for anything else out of him.”
In the second period, the Hawks largely controlled play. Twice, Buehrer was robbed by Handanyan before he gave Hendricken the lead back with time ticking down.
Inside a minute to go, Buehrer came in on a backcheck and poked the puck away from a La Salle forward in the Hendricken zone. The puck rolled to Steven Dumond, who reeled it in before sending a long pass to Buehrer, who had taken off on the right side of the ice. Buehrer advanced the puck into the zone before rocketing a shot between the legs of Handanyan, giving Hendricken a 2-1 lead after two periods.
“We just move the puck,” Buehrer said of his line – made up of him, Paul Filippone and David Mitchell – which consistently produced the most chances all night. “We get open. We know where each other are. Breaking out of the zone, we know where to put the puck and just get it and go. We just play really well together.”
The Hawks killed off an early penalty in the third period before Rocchio tied the game with just under eight minutes to go, eventually sending the game to overtime.
Early in the extra period, Hendricken got a scare.
Off the opening face-off, La Salle’s Daniel Lucchetti stole the puck and took off into Hendricken’s zone. He was hooked by Bodziony, giving the Rams a power play just eight seconds in to the period.
But, as it had done all game, the Hawks’ penalty kill rose to the occasion and killed it off without any damage.
“Everyone on that shorthanded unit played fantastic,” Creamer said. “Short shifts, they got on and off the ice, and Billy did well for us in net shorthanded. He made some great saves.”
Hendricken got a power play of its own with 2:37 to play, but couldn’t convert either. Its best opportunity came when Mitchell threw the puck on net, where Andrew Fera tipped it just wide with a minute to play.
And despite not pulling out the win, Hendricken was nothing but encouraged.
“We know they beat Mount,” Buehrer said. “And us three – us, La Salle and Mount – it looks like it’s going to be us three this year battling for it and playing hard.”
The Hawks will be back in action this Friday when they take on Moses Brown at Thayer Arena at 8 p.m. before playing three games in the Mount St. Charles Holiday Tournament next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.