The Panthers went into their hockey sectional opener against Westlake without coach Rick Montgomery, who was sidelined by surgery Thursday.
After a horrendous night of special teams play, Elyria Catholic’s David Kukucka one-timed a pass from Colin Lester from behind the Demons net just 41 seconds into overtime to give the Panthers a 5-4 win at the Brooklyn Recreation Center.
The Panthers (14-10) advance to play Avon on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. It was EC’s third win over Westlake this year.
“Colin is magic when he’s out there,” said EC assistant coach Mike Haszto, who filled in for Montgomery. “He puts everything he has into it when he’s on the ice. The feed he made across to David, who buried the shot, was unbelievable.”
The Panthers were fortunate to get to overtime after Westlake (16-13-1) converted all three of its power-play chances and killed off the first three man-advantage opportunities for Elyria Catholic.
EC’s Stephen Donat scored the first goal of the district tournament after Will Gentry chased down a loose puck at the end line. He flicked it back toward the net to Donat, who beat Joe Guay with 10:12 left in the opening period.
The Panthers held that lead for all of 18 seconds when Paul Freedman scored on the Demons’ first man-advantage opportunity of the game.
Despite continuous pressure in the period, Westlake failed to build on the lead as Lester scored his 28th goal of the year with 1:57 left in the first period.
Westlake scored two more times on the power play in the second period, getting goals from Kent Axcell at 13:38 and Adam Sandor with 1:01 remaining in the period to tie the score at 3 and canceling a Lester score in-between.
Things looked dismal for the Panthers when Axcell scored just 35 seconds after Sandor at full strength to claim a 4-3 lead and all the apparent momentum heading into the final 15 minutes of play.
Donat had other ideas, however, taking the puck off the face-off at center ice and scoring just nine seconds later to snag the momentum back.
“We were really gassed at the end of the second period, but we had to give everything we had in the final seconds,” Lester said. “That goal (by Donat) was big. I’m a big believer in momentum and we took it away from them, and our spirits were up going to the third period.”
There was no scoring in the third but both teams had chances.
Elyria Catholic’s biggest opportunity came in the early minutes with a 5-on-3 power play that was killed by the Demons with relative ease.
After the two-man advantage slipped away, Westlake kept up offensive pressure on the Panthers, but goalie Luke Farmer came up huge time and time again, including an incredible save on a breakaway chance by Axcell.
Axcell came up with the puck at mid-ice, slipped through a pair of defenders and found himself charging in with the puck.
Farmer came out to cut down the angle, then stopped and was able to knock away Axcell’s attempt with 3:11 remaining in regulation.
“Farmer was simply awesome in the third period,” Haszto said. “It was the culmination of what every goalie wants to be … coming up big in the final period with the game on the line. What he did on the breakaway was unbelievable.”
As the final minute ticked off, the Demons were called for a slashing penalty. That ended up playing a huge part in the EC game-winner since the man-advantage carried over to the overtime period.
In the extra period, Lester skated into the Demons zone anbut was cut off from going to the net for a shot. He carried himself back around the net to the right of the goalie, giving him a clear view of his teammates.
Lester then threw the puck to the front of the net where Kukucka had creeped in past his defender and was able to send the puck past Guay for the game-winner at 7:19 of overtime.
“Coach told us if we could score early we wouldn’t have to skate that long since we were gassed,” Kukucka said. “I saw Colin coming around the net and I slid down with my defender. When he got me the puck, that side of the net was wide open.”
Elyria Catholic 5, Westlake 4 (OT)
FIRST PERIOD: (EC) Stephen Donat (Will Gentry), 10:12, (W) Paul Freedman (Adam Sandor, Colin Adams) PP, 9:54, (EC) Colin Lester (Gentry), 1:57. Penalties — (EC) Lester (high-sticking), 12:55, (W) Sandor (high-sticking), 12:55, (EC) Ryan Saunders (hooking), 10:04.
SECOND PERIOD: (W) Kent Axcell (Nate Greenburg) PP, 14:46, (EC) Lester (Taylor Reaser), 8:35, (W) Sandor (Freedman) PP, 10:01, (W) Axcell (Rudy Keppler, Brendan Teets), 0:26, (EC) Donat (Jeremy Ng, Saunders), 0:17. Penalties — (EC) Donat (tripping), 14:46, (W) Freedman (high-sticking), 7:33, (EC) Gentry (too many men), 1:01.
THIRD PERIOD: None. Penalties — (W) Greenberg (interference), 12:53, (W) Nabil Johnson (hooking), 11:22, (W) Teets (slashing), 0:43.
OVERTIME: (EC) David Kukucka (Lester), 7:19; Penalties — None.
Westlake 1 3 0 0 — 4
Elyria Catholic 2 2 0 1 — 5
Shots on goal: Westlake 35 (11-13-11-0), Elyria Catholic 20 (6-9-4-1); Goalies: (W) Joe Guay (20 shots, 15 saves), (EC) Luke Farmer (35 shots, 31 saves); Power-play opportunities: Westlake 3-3, Elyria Catholic 1-4.
Contact James Brady at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.