EAST ALTON — The Class 1A MVCHA hockey players got to have a little fun Monday before delving into the playoffs, participating in the Class 1A all-star game the East Alton Ice Arena.
It was the East's night, as they defeated the West squad 8-5. East bounced back from a 1-0 deficit after one period and 2-0 hole early in the second period to pick up the win. East erupted for six goals in the second period to earn the victory.
“Tonight's an all-star game, the kids deserve to be here and the kids are out there having fun,” East Division coach and Bethalto head coach Derek Kahl said. “The coaches just stand up there, tell them when to go and let them do what they want to. It's all about the kids tonight and it showed. They went out there and they had fun. These guys battle against each other through the year, they come together and play on the same team and act like they played together forever.”
The East squad was comprised of players from Bethalto, East Alton-Wood River and Highland, while the West consisted of players from Alton, Granite City and Collinsville.
EA-WR defenseman Cole Ford said it was fun teaming up with his enemies from throughout the season for a fun night of hockey.
“It's great, we get to play against people we usually hate to play, but tonight we come together as a team,” Ford said.
Ford was joined by Oiler teammates, Blake Weishaupt, Jacob Vassos, Chris Hamby, Bryce Bazzell, Nolan Royse and Kaleb Harrop. Bethalto's representatives on the East team were: Jayden Kahl, Joseph Watson, Anthony Russo, Kirklyn Hansen, Gage Wendle, Justin Meyer, Justin Wendle, Alec Hilliard, Jacoby Robinson and Konnar Loewen.
On the West squad, Alton was represented by: Bryce Simon, Jake Bohn, Conner Jones, Scotty Waldrup, Caleb Currie, Joe Boevingloh, Brandon Lang, Tanner St. Peters, Zack Hunter and Mark Vitali. Granite City showcased: Brylie Hassard, Riley Brown, Jacob Roderick, Brenden Colvin, Brandon Merz, Jacob Freivogel, Grant Jackson, Darian Glenn and Isiah Hensley.
There were also skills competitions after the first and second periods for the kids to show off their abilities in front of the packed house at the Ice Arena.
“It was fun,” Ford said of the skills competitions. “It's not as serious so we don't get so heated. We just laugh about whatever happens, like whenever somebody falls everybody laughs and has a good time with it.”
Hilliard, a senior goalie for the Eagles, enjoyed the competitions he participated in, especially the 3-on-1, which showcased three players trying to skate in and score on the goalies. Hilliard was the third goalie for the East squad in the event and closed it out so they could win it.
“The 3-on-1 is a drill we do in every practice, so it's a lot of fun for us and we've got pretty good at it,” Hilliard said. “The goalies are good at stopping the puck and getting rid of it real quick so they have to go skate and get it and can't get a quick shot off again.”
The game itself started in a stalemate, as both Hilliard and the West's Currie of Alton denied shot attempts in the first period. Hunter of the Redbirds finally put the West on top with 3:43 to play in the first. He skated in and flipped a shot in front that trickled past Hilliard and just over the line to make it 1-0. Alton's Waldrup and Granite City's Roderick assisted on the play.
Hilliard was disappointed, he was stoked to match Currie at the other end in their period of play.
“I wanted to match Currie ideally,” Hilliard said. “They told me I was going to play whatever period he played and my goal was to match whatever he did and he didn't let in any and I let in one and it kind of got to me a little bit.”
West added to its lead at the 15:26 mark of the second period when St. Peters punched in a goal on assists from Collinsville's Cory Sperry and Simon.
East showed life when Brock Troxell of Highland logged a power play goal just six seconds into the power play at the 12:22 mark of the second. Loewen and Watson of Bethalto assisted as the deficit was cut to 2-1.
Just seven seconds later though, Sperry scored on an assist from St. Peters to elevate the West lead to 3-1.
The East squad stepped it up, answering with five straight goals to close out the period.
EA-WR's Harrop scored at 11:15 on assists from Highland's Devin Korte and Bethalto's Justin Wendle and Loewen scored at 7:45 on feeds from Kahl and Ford to knot it at 3-3.
Ford put East in front for good when he raced in and flicked a wrist shot past Collinsville goalie Zach Stenger with 6:40 to play, making it 4-3 in favor of East.
Harrop added a goal, assisted by Russo and Justin Wendle and Troxell scored a power play goal on dishes from Ford and Vassos to lift the East lead to 6-3 after two periods.
With the way Bethalto has been playing since 1A pool play begin, going 5-0 and garnering the top spot in the 1A playoffs, coupled with EA-WR and Highland getting boosted by the return of their goalies from injury, Blake Stone and Hunter Micheletto, it was no surprise to coach Kahl the East played well.
“Bethalto really has picked it up toward the end of the year and the kids have started playing the way I knew they could in the beginning,” Kahl said. “Wood River has got a heck of a coach, (John) Helmkamp runs a tight ship there and the guys from Highland with Jeff Weinacht running it. Tonight was the first night back for (Micheletto), he's been out since the third game of the year. He practiced Friday and Sunday and he comes out tonight, first game action since he's been cleared to play and he played a great game.”
Highland's Troxell pushed it to 7-3 in favor of East when he completed his hat trick at 9:29 of the third period. Loewen assisted on the goal.
Collinsville's Kalib Carlyle and Alton's St. Peters scored to cut West's deficit to 7-5 late. Colvin of the Warriors and Noah Scrum of the Kahoks picked up assists.
Loewen then put the cherry on top for East, scoring as time expired in the game. Weishaupt of the Oilers was credited with the assist. East outshot West 49-45 in the game.
Now teams turn their attention to the playoffs. The Class 2A all-star game is tonight and the postseason begins Thursday. EA-WR has Game 1 of its three-game series with Granite City at 8:45 p.m. Thursday in East Alton. Highland and Collinsville play at 8 p.m. in Granite City to start the other 1A series.
Freeburg/Waterloo faces Belleville and Triad plays Columbia in 2A playoff games on Thursday, too.
Ford thinks the return of Stone in goal strengthens the Oilers for the stretch run. They advanced to the 1A finals the last two seasons, ultimately finishing runner-up.
“It brings our core players back,” Ford said. “We get to step up and everybody will be playing their game, especially after this and having some fun, now we get to take it serious and get back to practice, pick up the pace again.”
The Eagles are the top seed in the 1A playoffs, so they and the second seeded Redbirds get byes in the first round, as do Edwardsville and O'Fallon in the 2A pool. Bethalto and Alton sit idle until Feb. 15.
Hilliard admitted that's going to be a tough span to remain crisp and focused.
“It's going to be tough,” he said. “I guess it's just work hard in practice and not goof around too much and keep our eye on the prize.”