ELYRIA — The five-year wait is over.
Elyria Catholic’s hockey team qualified for the Baron Cup II playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season with a 6-1 White West Division win over North Olmsted on Wednesday in Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League play at North Park Recreation Center.
“We’re in,” Panthers coach Rick Montgomery said after his team raised its record to 13-8 overall and 5-4 in the league with its fifth straight win. “It’s been a big goal of ours and it’s been a while since we were in. The kids have played hard all year, but I was worried after we played such a big game Sunday night against Westlake (a 3-0 win).
“To come out and put it on them right away was big. We outshot them, we put pressure on them and everyone stepped up for this team win.”
Elyria Catholic’s Steve Donat put the pressure on North Olmsted (11-12, 4-6) just 32 seconds into the game. Donat came around the back of the net with the puck, put it on goal and it deflected off an Eagles defender past the goalie for a 1-0 lead.
“I was just throwing the puck on the net and it found its way past the goalie,” said Donat, who finished the night with a hat trick and 29 goals on the year. “It was really important to get that early goal to set the tone for the game.”
Donat went on to score again in the first period at the 8:54 mark on assists from Will Gentry and Taylor Reaser for a 2-0 lead.
North Olmsted added its only score just 49 seconds later when Alex Arendec won a face-off in the Panthers’ zone and it went right out to Shawn Elliott, who beat sophomore goalie Luke Farmer to set the score at 2-1 with 8:05 left in the period.
From that point, Farmer was a wall, stopping 20 straight shots.
“Even though I gave up the goal, we still had the lead and I stayed confident,” Farmer said. “I never even saw the puck on that goal, so there wasn’t much I could do about it.
“The whole team really buckled down, did our jobs and helped this senior class get to the Baron Cup for the first time.”
After scoring in the first minute of the opening period, the Panthers repeated the feat in the second when freshman William Gentry scored unassisted after winning face-off. The puck went right into the net for a 3-1 lead at 14:02 of the second period.
Gentry added his second of the game and 14th of the year just over two minutes later when Ryan Saunders backhanded the puck off the boards all the way across the ice to Gentry, who backhanded it past Chase Cullinan for a 4-1 lead.
EC tried to keep North Olmsted in the game, giving up four power-play opportunities, but the Eagles couldn’t convert any of the chances and finished the night 0-for-6 with a man advantage.
The Panthers put the game away by picking up two more goals in the second period as Colin Lester scored with 1:52 left and Donat finished off his hat trick off a Jeremy Ng assist with just six seconds to play.
“We’ve been working so hard in practice,” Donat said. “Our shots just seem to be going in the net and our goalie’s saving all the shots he’s supposed to be saving.
“Coming into this game our only goal was to win. We didn’t want to have to get help from another team and wait around and hope for the best.”
The only thing left for the Panthers to find out is where they will be seeded in the tournament. With a game left against Brecksville on Saturday, EC could open the playoffs Monday or Tuesday at the Brooklyn Ice Arena.
Elyria Catholic 6, North Olmsted 1
FIRST PERIOD: (EC) Steven Donat (Jeremy Ng, Ryan Saunders), 14:28; (EC) Donat (William Gentry, Tay Reaser), 8:54; (NO) Shawn Elliott (Alex Arendec). Penalties — (EC) Ng (hooking), 5:12; (NO) Brendon Kirk (high stick), 2:07; (EC) Donat (hooking), 1:53.
SECOND PERIOD: (EC) Gentry (unassisted), 14:02; (EC) Gentry (Saunders, Colin Lester), 11:49; (EC) Lester (Saunders) SH, 1:52; (EC) Donat (Ng). Penalties — (NO) Chase Cullinan (tripping), 10:31; (EC) Lester (boarding), 4:00; (EC) David Kukucka (tripping), 2:31.
THIRD PERIOD: None. Penalties — (EC) Ng (tripping), 12:24; (NO) Arendec (slashing), 12:11; (EC) Lester (holding), 5:37.
Elyria Catholic 2 4 0 - 6
North Olmsted 1 0 0 - 1
Shots on goal: Elyria Catholic 28 (10-12-6), North Olmsted 25 (6-11-8); Goalies: (EC) Luke Farmer (25 shots, 24 saves); (NO) Chase Cullinan (25 shots, 19 saves), Noah DeJoy (3 shots, 3 saves); Power-play opportunities: Elyria Catholic 0-3, North Olmsted 0-6.
Contact James Brady at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.