EAST ALTON — The Alton Redbirds and O'Fallon Panthers found themselves cast in a grueling battle Monday at the East Alton Ice Arena. Unfortunately for the Redbirds they came out on the losing end.
O'Fallon tallied two power play goals, which was just enough to eke out a 2-1 win in MVCHA action. The win elevated the Panthers to 7-3-2, while Alton slipped to 7-6 with the loss. It pushed O'Fallon past the Birds in the MVCHA standings. The Panthers have 16 points to Alton's 14 and are now perched in third place all alone.
“Tonight's game was really just a hard fought game,” Alton head coach Abram Henson said. “A bounce either way is the difference there. I've got a 12 man bench and having a good, full game from those kids, especially against a good team like O'Fallon, it was awesome. It was a joy to coach even with the loss.”
O'Fallon head coach Patrick Roy didn't realize how starved the Redbird roster was entering Monday, but he did know the Panthers had their work cut out for them against Alton goalie Caleb Currie.
O'Fallon outshot the Redbirds 36-16 in the game, but Currie denied shot after shot, picking up 34 saves. It took a barrage of shots to get the Panthers over the hump.
“Their goaltender is obviously really, really good,” Roy said. “He played well and we knew that in advance from seeing a couple games, the kid can stand on his head. We knew it was going to take a lot of shots and probably special teams to make the difference in the game tonight.”
The power play killed the Redbirds. Alton had three penalties on the night and O'Fallon's two goals game on two of those power plays.
“I didn't know (Alton) had such a short bench, but it is what it is,” Roy said. “They've been playing two lines all season long so they're used to that.”
With Currie turning away shots early — he made 11 saves in the first period — the game was scoreless after the opening stanza.
Alton actually struck first. Junior Zack Hunter tickled the twine at the 8:25 mark of the second period. There was a scrum in front of the O'Fallon net and Hunter was able to flick it in. Senior Brandon Lang was credited with the assist.
But with consecutive penalties on a hooking call against Tanner St. Peters and a tripping call against Jake Bohn, the Birds weren't able to thwart O'Fallon's constant attack.
The Panthers found the back of the net at the 2:44 mark of the second period, during the second power play. Hayden Ourada tallied the goal to tie it at 1-1, while Cooper Barnhill garnered the assist.
“It comes down to fatigue and with a team like that and a team like ours, we can't just hammer, hammer, hammer in the offensive zone all the time. We have to be smart,” Henson said. “Ideally we come out on top when we get our opportunities and maybe more than one of them should have gone in, but that's the way it goes.”
O'Fallon's game winning goal came after Bohn was whistled for tripping again in the third period. Graham Sudduth put home the game winner on assists from Ourada and Trevor Rieck with 10:45 to play.
Alton pulled Currie with 40 seconds to go in a desperate attempt to tie the game, but it was to no avail.
With the short bench, Henson said Currie's presence is crucial. Just a sophomore, Currie has been great between the pipes for the Birds.
“It's phenomenal,” Henson said. “If we didn't (have him), look at some of the other teams with shorter benches and if we didn't have him we'd be in trouble. Currie is a phenomenal goalie and he's only a sophomore. He comes out and plays everyday. I haven't had one yet where I've been disappointed in him, so hopefully it stays that way.”
As far as the standings, both Henson and Roy said it's too early to put too much stock into that.
“It puts us on top, but we've got to do our job the rest of the season,” Roy said. “It's a good win.”