EAST ALTON — The Alton Redbirds dropped Game 1 of the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association North Division playoffs 6-5 to the Collinsville Kahoks on Thursday.
In what could be considered an upset, the Kahoks came to the East Alton Ice Arena ready to play as the Redbirds struggled to take flight.
Alton and Collinsville faced off twice during the regular season with the Redbirds going 2-0. Alton scored 13 goals and racked up two shutouts against the Kahoks before heading into Thursday's game.
"It's always good to start a playoff series up," Collinsville head coach Matt Bednara said. "The (Jason and Cory) Sperry boys came out to play tonight, they had a fire in their belly. They're brothers, they have a feel for where each other is at on the ice. Cory made some really nice passes tonight and Jason was able to capitalize on some opportunities early."
Alton and Collinsville traded goals in Game 1, but the Redbirds attacked the goal first at 10:01 with a shot from the stick of Jordan Myer, assisted by Jake Cunningham.
The Kahoks answered at 5:54 with a goal from Jason Sperry, assisted by Cory Sperry. The Redbirds swooped in to take the lead at 3:47 with a wrister from Cunningham off assists from Myer and Alex Rubin. Less than an minute later, Redbird captain Kain Henson discovered the back of the net to make the score 3-1 off an assist from Jake Bohn at 2:54.
Collinsville didn't waste any time before it jumped into the action with another attack from Jason Sperry, with a helper from Cory Sperry at 2:38. Just as the clock was about to run out for the first period, the Sperry boys took aim and tied the game at 3-3. Jason Sperry hooked up with Cory Sperry and Jacob Scrum on a Collinsville powerplay for the pair's third goal of the game with just 27 seconds remaining.
"We came out a bit soft at the start of the game," Alton head coach Abrahm Henson said. "I think the time we had off the ice made a big difference. I don't think our guys were ready to play this game. Playoffs, in this league especially are a completely different game. It seems that teams that don't compete very strongly during the regular season beat teams that do."
The second period was the turning point for the Kahoks as they shut down the Redbirds offensively.
Collinsville scored two unanswered goals, both off the stick of Cory Sperry with assists by Jason Sperry. The first goal was at 5:07 on the clock in a hard battle in front of the Redbirds net. The second goal came on a Kahoks' power play with additional help from a pass from Nick Hager to Jason Sperry with Cory Sperry taking the shot with just a minute left in the second period. The Kahoks took a surprising 5-3 lead ending the second.
"The Sperry boys came out hard," Henson said. "I can't be worried about their team so much, I'm worried about my own. Our boys came out tonight and was not ready for it. Collinsville did, their whole team was ready. The Sperry boys had a great game, they had all their points tonight, but I don't think just two players can win a game."
Collinsville came out early with a goal at 12:12 from Cory Sperry, assisted by Jason Sperry in attempt to seal the deal over Alton.
The Redbirds found some energy late and battled back to make a game of it. Alton forward Alex Rubin found the back of the Kahoks' net on two power play opportunities to close the gap on Collinsville. Rubin took a shot off passes from Kain Henson and Tyler St. Peters at 5:36 when Hager was sent to the penalty box on a tripping call.
Alton had another power play opportunity when Christian Brussatti was sent to take a seat with a tripping violation. With 3:14 left on the clock, Rubin dwindled the deficit to 6-5 on a shot assisted by Ben Drake. The last minute drive wasn't enough for the Redbirds, as the Kahoks hung on for the Game 1 victory.
"When you have a lot of goals scored early in a game like that, some kids heads will get down," Henson said. "We made some changes late in the game, sometimes when the kids see changes made in the game it can get them to figure out that they have to change some things up. You can bet these kids are going to be here tomorrow and be ready to work. We have a lot ahead of us and we need to win two in a row now."
Collinsville took a surprising 1-0 lead in the best of three series against Alton, and are preparing for the Redbirds to come back hard after Thursday's loss.
"We need to be more responsible defensively and making sure we have the house covered," Bednara said. "We need to make sure we don't have anyone standing on our back door looking for the easy shot. No easy goals in this series hopefully. We're proud of our goalie tonight, Caleb Nowicki, he had an excellent game and made some key saves."
The Collinsville Kahoks and the Alton Redbirds face off again on Monday at 7:15 p.m. at the East Alton Ice Arena in Game 2.