Grizzlies overwhelm Panthers, advance to finals

The Ashland Grizzlies hockey team blew out South Medford Wednesday night to take the driver's seat for the Rogue Valley Youth Hockey Association high school championship.

The 7-1 victory gives the Grizzlies the opportunity to win the championship on Saturday against either South or North Medford.

Ashland (10-5-0) out-shot the Panthers 51-18. Junior Casey Skolnik led the way offensively for Ashland with two goals and two assists. Skolnik's line-mates, junior Lewis Sebrell and freshman Trevor Perry, notched a goal and two assists each. Ashland goaltender Kyle Smelcer was a wall and made 17 saves.

The Grizzlies outworked South (10-3-1) all game and it showed on the scoreboard. Ashland coach Chris Bonelli says his team is focused, intense and has its eyes on the prize.

"I think its just a matter of who's showing up," Bonelli said. "We had 15 guys show up tonight and I don't know that they had 15 of their guys show up."

The Grizzlies controlled the game's pace from the get-go with a relentless forecheck. South was often unable to clear the puck from its own end, and the pressure paid dividends early.

Nearly three minutes into play, Sebrell found Skolnik with a backhand pass behind the Panthers' net. Skolnik circled the goal and hit Perry with a pinpoint pass in the slot. Perry sent a wrist shot between South goalie John Adamson's legs for the 1-0 lead.

Ashland junior Josh McLaughlin scored on a breakaway about a minute later and nearly scored on a wrap-around a minute after that.

With 9:12 left in the first period, Ashland senior Jack Rasmussen crossed the Panther blue line and sent a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circles to the top-right corner.

Ashland had the early 3-0 lead and South took a timeout.

The Grizzlies continued to control the game as the period wore on, but a tripping penalty on senior Andrew Cataldo gave South the advantage they needed to find the scoreboard.

With 1:10 left in the first, South's Lane Littlefield sent a bouncing slap shot to Smelcer. Smelcer went to his knees and the puck trickled over his shoulder to make the score 3-1.

A Rasmussen penalty with 20 seconds left in the period left the Grizzlies shorthanded, but that didn't stop Skolnik from tacking on one more goal with one second left on the clock.

Sebrell checked a Panther defender and popped the puck loose in the offensive zone. Skolnik gathered the loose puck and walked into the slot unopposed. He stuck his shot top shelf and Ashland took a 4-1 lead into intermission.

The Grizzlies sent South packing in the second.

Ashland senior captain Stephan McLaughlin took a pass from Perry to the slot and beat Adamson's blocker with a snap shot.

Later in the period Ashland cashed in on a pair of penalties by South senior captain Zack Macdonald.

Sebrell scored his power-play goal when he deflected a Skolnik slap shot past Adamson. After Macdonald took another penalty 16 seconds later, Sebrell and Skolnik struck again.

Sebrell sent a pass from the corner to Skolnik in the slot. Skolnik sent a one-timer to the top-right corner and with 2:14 left in the second, the Grizzlies led 7-1 and had done all they needed.

South's Adamson got better in goal as the game went on, and both teams went scoreless in the third period.

Ashland is playing the best hockey it has all season, and the Grizzlies couldn't have picked a better time to do it. Sebrell is excited with how the team has rallied in the playoffs.

"The style of hockey that we've been playing ever since this tournament started is unbelievable," Sebrell said. "Its just so much fun to come out here and play. It's real fun. A lot of passing going on. We're working it in the zone real well."

Ashland will have to lose to either North or South Medford twice in a row to lose the championship. Although Ashland now completely controls its own destiny, Bonelli is careful not to overlook anyone.

"I've been in the driver's seat the last two years and anything can happen," Bonelli said. "If we play like we played tonight, there's no doubt that we should be able to take this thing. "&

166;They're backs are against the wall. We've got to play hard. We can't take it for granted."

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.

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