Start strong. That’s the message the Westmont Hilltop coaching staff delivered to the Hilltoppers hockey team on Thursday night.
The players responded by posting 23 shots against rival Richland in the opening period of a Laurel Mountain Hockey League game at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.
A three-goal first-period flurry put into motion the Hilltoppers’ 6-1 victory over the Rams.
“Our message before the game was we wanted to come out strong with a better effort and work a little harder and make some better decisions,” said Westmont Hilltop assistant coach Kris Carlson. “We definitely came out in the first period and did that and put them on their heels.
“Instead of sitting back and waiting for plays to happen, we took the play to them.”
Hilltop (4-1) outshot Richland 23-3 in the first period and 37-17 in the game.
The Hilltoppers bounced back after a 4-2 loss to Bishop McCort Catholic in the city game on Tuesday. The Crimson Crushers had the first 11 shots of that game, a trend Westmont reversed by taking the first 13 attempts against the Rams.
“They’re a good hockey team. I told the kids in the locker room that if the season ended last year they would have been one of the teams at the top, and they didn’t lose really anything,” Richland coach J.J. Vasilko said of Westmont. “If you come and play a period or a period and a half, you’re not going to be able to hang with a team like that.”
Westmont Hilltop’s Nicholas Rozich tallied the first two goals of the game, both with assists by Aiden Rice. On the first, Rozich made his way into the slot and put a shot into the net at 5:30. On the second, his attempt from inside the right-wing circle snuck inside the far post 7:43 into the contest.
“Nick has a good shot,” said Carlson, who fielded postgame questions because head coach Don Lamison had a family commitment shortly after the game ended.
“We got the puck down low. We’re cycling on it. They were able to find him open in the slot and he was able to bury it.”
The Hilltoppers’ Zachary Wallace scored a short-handed goal at 12:32 of the first period.
“Anytime you can get a goal when you’re killing a penalty is definitely a boost for your club,” Carlson said.
The second period included only one goal scored by Kobe Rickabaugh as a Hilltoppers power play concluded at 8:49.
Rice had his third assist of the game and Hilltop led 4-0.
Gavin Lafferty scored 1:59 into the final period to pull Richland within 4-1. Joshua Slavick had the assist.
“The flashes are there,” Vasilko said. “I thought we kind of let them open us up offensively in the first period. The second and third periods we clamped down a little better and limited their chances. We played a much better hockey game the second and third period especially.”
Westmont Hilltop reestablished the four-goal margin via Anthony Marano’s goal at 9:47 of the third. Rickabaugh scored an unassisted goal with 1:21 remaining.
“We come right back Tuesday and play Central Cambria,” Vasilko said. “We want to get that first win. We’re 0-4 now. Each game we want it more and more.”