Story by Tim Bradburn
The Skyline hockey team fell just short of winning the SEC White championship on Thursday night as they lost to Chelsea 5-4 late in the third for the second time this year.
On Jan. 16, Skyline gave up the game-winning goal with under 2 minutes remaining, and on Thursday they gave it up with just 49 seconds remaining. Despite leading for much of the game, keeping the play in the Chelsea end for minutes at a time, and nearly blowing the game wide open on several golden opportunities, the Eagles just couldn’t keep the choke collar on the Bulldogs and keep them contained.
First period action was played like two heavyweight boxers testing the resolve and looking for chinks in the armor of their opponent. The defense played tight at both ends, and the offense came in quick spurts, but with no sustained pressure. Freshman goalie Tommy Letke made some key saves to keep the Eagles in the hunt, and his counterpart at the other end of the ice did likewise as the teams skated to a 0-0 tie leading up to the first intermission.
The second period is often the big period for the Eagles, and this second period looked to be living up to the billing when captain Ryan VanDiepen scored early on a breakaway to put the Eagles up 1-0 when Ryan Schmunk found him with a pass as he was streaking out behind the Cheslea defenders.
A few shifts later, however, Chelsea showed that they had some firepower of their own as they evened up the score 1-1.
Noah Bradburn got the lead back for the Eagles when he put back his own rebound as Shea O’Brien was creating havoc around the net to make it 2-1. The Eagles held on for the rest of the period to take a 2-1 lead into the locker room and a chance to finally beat the pesky Bulldogs.
Third period action saw the dams break on the goalie’s nets as the teams combined for six goals.
Shea O’Brien redirected a pass from Isaac Lippert to give the Eagles a two-goal lead 3-1, and it looked like it was going to be Skyline’s night. However, the Bulldogs began to ramp up their attack, scoring three unanswered goals shortly thereafter, proving once again that the two-goal lead in hockey is the most dangerous.
Chelsea was seemingly unstoppable as they whittled the Eagle lead to 3-2, followed quickly by another goal to make it 3-3, then getting their first lead of the night 4-3 in a span of just a few minutes…two goals coming on back-to-back shifts.
Things were looking bad for the Columbia Blue until Bradburn stopped the bleeding with his second of the night on a nice shot that beat the Chelsea goalie as he powered out of the corner and patiently picked his spot before tying the game up at 4-4.
Then with just over 6 minutes remaining, Skyline took a 5-minute major penalty, and they were forced to play defense, effectively nullifying any chance to get the lead back.
Letke and the defense did an outstanding job, and the Eagles were able to kill the penalty without a single goal being scored, but the extra effort and pressure wore them down.
Skyline pushed back after the penalty and had some great pressure heading down to the wire, but it looked like overtime was a real possibility as neither team could finish their chances. Then came the stake in the heart: Chelsea’s leading scorer, Braden Steele closed the door on the Eagles when he beat Letke on an uncontested shot when he was left all alone in the slot, putting the Bulldogs up with just 49 seconds left.
Skyline was able to muster some chances at the end with the extra attacker, but time ran out and the Eagles found themselves on the short end of the stick against Chelsea once again, losing 5-4.
The last regular season game of the year is next Saturday Feb. 25 at 5 p.m. against Milford. Pregame ceremonies will honor seniors CJ Bahr, Zach Roberts and Ryan VanDiepen.
The state playoffs begin at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 26 vs. Pioneer.