Hendersonville-Station Camp scored early on and Centennial-Page fought back valiantly, but even five power plays could not help start a rally.
Both teams displayed their speed, trading the puck back and forth in the first few minutes of the game. Hendersonville-Station Camp got on the board as Emma Knoll found teammate Alexander Yarger alone with an open lane on the left circle. Yarger’s slap shot was so fast, the Centennial defenders didn’t see it and goalie Theodore Strunce didn’t have time to react.
Less than a minute later, Hendersonville made it 2-0 when Jaxon Rathert found Blake Fuqua, who squeezed one under Strunce’s pad. Centennial did not back down though, responding in a big way as Tanner Watkins found himself alone in the slot in the Hendersonville defensive zone, bouncing a puck off his stick into the glove of Shaw, who dropped the puck over the line, making it a 2-1 game.
Hendersonville’s Samuel Mali received an unsportsmanlike penalty, giving Centennial the man-advantage. Centennial couldn’t capitalize, and with only 56 seconds left in the period, Hendersonville-Station Camp regained a two-goal lead when Knoll and Yarger combined again to close out a 3-1 first period.
The second period was not as high-scoring as the first. Each team received two penalties, with Hendersonville-Station Camp’s Eric Hall called for tripping and Gavin Damewood for slashing, while Centennial’s Brandon Seymour sat for cross-checking and James Barr received two for tripping. The best shot of the second period came from Centennial’s Alec Stone on a wraparound attempt, but Shaw caught it, denying him an easy goal.
“It’s always nice to get power play goals,” Centennial-Page head coach Mike Barnes said. “No doubt we struggled on it tonight. Relying solely on the power play is not really what our team is all about. We need even strengths goals. We need to have opportunities on both ends of the ice. Yes, our power play needs to be better and we could have capitalized on a few more opportunities there.”
The third opened with a Brandon Seymour goal for Centennial, banging home a rebound from Cyphers past Shaw. Sledge attempted to get the game-tying goal, but Shaw used his head, literally, saving the puck with his helmet.
Then at 10:41, Yarger broke away from the pack uncontested, easily beating Strunce to reclaim a two-goal lead. Hendersonville-Station Camp promptly went on the penalty kill though, as Hall picked up his second penalty of the night for holding.
“Shorthanded, the boys have played really well,” Hendersonville coach Tim Rathert said. “That’s where a lot of their stick and puck skills really start to show up. We do a good job killing penalties, we do a good job protecting the front of the net, and we all know who the best penalty killer is. It’s when you got solid goal tending. It makes all the difference. We’re stacked deep with goal tenders and Jacob played well for us tonight.”
Hendersonville-Station Camp dealt the dagger after getting back to full strength when Fuqua found Brodie Ruffing, who went low to the left side of Strunce for the score and the 5-2 lead.
With the win out of reach, things began to get chippy in the last five minutes of the game, as Dubov and Sam Stickel went at it on the boards. Their teammates, Sledge and Tyler Kimbro, each came to their defense, and in the end, all four received penalties for roughing. But play stayed at 5-on-5 as the clock wound down and Hendersonville celebrated a win to close their regular season out.
“We’ve had a great season,” Rathert said, reflecting on the Commandos’ season. “The boys have played great. They’ve had great goal tending, we’ve had timely goal scoring. I thought tonight was not one of our better games and we’ve had this a few times during the season.
“Our goaltending has carried us against some other teams that may not be as deep as we are. We’ve got a really solid group of players and sometimes we don’t just bring it all. I thought tonight was one of those. We’ve got a great hockey club and proud of them. We’ve finished well this regular season and look forward to the playoffs”
“We’ve always looked it the same way,” Barnes added, discussing his team’s season. “We approach an objective each game and did we accomplish it or not? I think that throughout the year, we’ve progressively gotten more “Yes, we are accomplishing our goals.” You can only say that we are moving up from there.”
The GNASH playoffs begin on Monday, Feb. 19th at the Ford Ice Center at 6:15 p.m. and at Centennial Sportsplex B at 7 p.m.