DETROIT – Two shorthanded goals during the same third-period shift created enough breathing room for Cadillac’s Scott Graham, who may have gotten more out of coaching at Joe Louis Arena than his players did from playing in the Red Wings’ home on Wednesday afternoon.
“I was lucky as a kid to have played at Olympia Stadium as a squirt in 1977,” Graham said. “As a youngster I know that I didn’t have a grasp and a gravity of the opportunity to play. These guys being at the age that they are … I don’t know if they really have a grasp. But some day they will have a better recollection and a memory compared to what I had.”
Goals by four different juniors paved the way for the Vikings who cruised to a memorable 4-0 win over Big Rapids in the opening game of High School Hockey at The Joe. The win was the Vikings’ second over Big Rapids this season.
The two teams were originally scheduled to play outdoors at Comerica Park as part of the Winter Festival this week. But the game, along with three others involving metro Detroit schools, were moved to JLA.
Cadillac dominated Wednesday’s game, but only led 1-0 throughout most of the first two periods. Still solid play from the defensive pairings of Patrick Briggs and Blake Ford, and Levi Rowen (one assist) and Josh Beard (one assist) allowed Cadillac to maintain puck-possession in the offense zone where its forwards had ample scoring chances.
“Ultimately our best defense was our offense today,” Graham said. “We spoke after the first period and I thought we had a lot of things to tighten up. We had a lot of jitters at times despite out-shooting them, 12-5.”
Cadillac finished with 30 shots, compared to Big Rapids’ 10.
Despite the edge in shots, the Vikings managed to beat Big Rapids starting goalie J.D. Horvath once when Briggs fired a shot from the point at 5:17 of the opening period.
The Vikings held onto their 1-0 lead until center Spencer Graham ripped a shot from the right circle that beat backup goalie Joey Hinds with 28 seconds left in the second. Sophomore forward Keenan Kolarik (two assists) and senior forward Daniel Gischia assisted on Graham’s goal was his team-leading sixth of the season.
The Cardinals (0-9-1) had their best scoring chance when freshman forward Jordan Smith stole the puck in the neutral zone and skated in a Cadillac goalie P.J. Nemish. Smith’s shot from the right circle beat Nemish, but ricocheted off the crossbar with 6:13 left in the second.
“It sounded pretty good,” said Nemish, of the sound made by the crossbar. “I mean, he shot it, I shrugged, it went just over the shoulder and I heard the post. I felt pretty good and aligned, felt like I was on my game.”
The game’s outcome was sealed when forwards Brett Farley and Ryan Morse scored shorthanded goals just 16-seconds apart for the Vikings, who improved to 4-5-0 on the season. For Farley, that was his first goal of the season.
“Anytime you can get some shorties on the board, especially two on one shift, it was really a bonus,” Graham said. “And to come from those two guys, Brett and Ryan Morse was certainly a bonus on top of it. That’s some of the balance that we haven’t seen in a long time.”
While not surprised by anything that Cadillac did, Big Rapids coach Tim Blashill said it was difficult to overcome the Vikings’ intensity.
“Their game plan is simple: They get the puck deep and they beat us to the puck,” Blashill said. “They kept it in our zone and we’re working for a minute to get it out, and at that point you’re too tired to create any offense.”
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