Skolnik, McLaughlin lead Grizzlies past Tornado


A shootout goal from junior Casey Skolnik was needed for the Ashland High hockey team to defeat rival North Medford 5-4 Saturday night at The RRRink.

After entering the third period with a 4-2 lead, late Grizzly penalties allowed the Black Tornado to tie the game with 24 seconds remaining, forcing the tie-breaker.

Ashland out-shot North 38-14 in the game. Skolnik tallied three goals and an assist while senior captain Stephen McLaughlin scored two and assisted on one goal. North senior Trevor Heinsohn was in on all four Tornado goals with two goals and two assists. —

Senior Ashland goalie Kyle Smelcer was relieved that his team squeaked out the win.

"It means a lot to us beating our rivals like this in a good, hard-played game," said Smelcer. "I'm happy for it."

McLaughlin kicked off the scoring for the Grizzlies (7-2) just over two minutes into the action. He drove from his own blue line around a fallen defender and unabated to the goal. The captain deked left and beat a sliding junior goalie Stephen Cole to give Ashland the early 1-0 lead.

The tilt soon became physical, which has been a staple of the rivalry. The Grizzlies sustained offensive pressure for most of the first stanza, but Cole and the Tornado defense managed to thwart the opportunities.

With just under four minutes left in the first, North tied the game when freshmen Jared McClure and Cody Chiverton teamed up in transition. Chiverton found McClure with a crossing pass for a one-timer that was too much for Smelcer.

McLaughlin struck again for Ashland 1:25 later to break the tie. McLaughlin's shot from the point deflected off a North Medford defender's stick and between the legs of Cole to give Ashland the 2-1 lead that they took into intermission.

The Tornado penalty box was busy in the second period. On the first power play of the period, the Grizzlies were unable to cash in on a Heinsohn slashing penalty, and 10 seconds after his release the senior found a loose puck at center ice. Heinsohn drove to the net on a breakaway and snuck the puck inside the left post as McLaughlin applied pressure from behind and the game was tied again.

Skolnik scored on two of the next three Ashland power plays in the period to take a 4-2 lead.

With 6:41 remaining in the second period, Skolnik was alone with the puck in the faceoff circle and sent a laser of a slap shot over Cole's shoulder and under the crossbar for the power-play tally.

With a man advantage four minutes later, Grizzly defenders Stephan and Josh McLaughlin took turns sending the puck to the net. A waiting Skolnik found one of the rebounds on the crease and slammed it home to put the Tornado down by two.

Ashland out-shot North Medford 28-8 through two periods and had only four penalty minutes to North's 22. However, by game's end, the teams' penalty minutes were equal at 24.

North cut its deficit in half seconds after an Ashland penalty expired early in the third. Heinsohn struck for his second goal of the night when sophomore Taylor Covey found him with a pass. Heinsohn had time to walk into the slot and beat Smelcer's glove to bring the Tornado within one.

The Grizzlies threatened Cole for much of the period as they had all night, but Cole was up to the challenge and kept North in the game down the stretch. Ashland assistant coach Tim Sinnhuber was impressed with the keeper who he has coached in the past.

"He had a phenomenal game," Sinnhuber said. "Stephen is a great goalie. He's a lot of fun to watch. I think he's one of the premier goalies in the league myself. He's great."

It seemed Ashland would hold off the Tornado in the closing minutes until, with 1:10 left in regulation, senior Ben O'Donnell was whistled for holding and Josh McLaughlin was called for a check from behind. A five-on-three man advantage gave North the chance they needed and they seized it.

North took advantage of an over-aggressive offensive attack by the short-handed Grizzlies and the Tornado drove into Ashland's zone on a 3-on-1 break. Heinsohn found Chiverton with a pass and with 24 seconds left, Chiverton sent a wrist shot on a wire to the goal's top-right corner.

Smelcer came up big in the shootout, denying Chiverton, McClure and Covey. Skolnik beat Cole on a backhander to seal the hard-fought victory for the Grizzlies.

Saturday marked the first in-game shootout for Smelcer, who said he took on the shooters with a clear head.

"I honestly wasn't thinking anything," said Smelcer. "I was just reacting to the puck and hoping I would block it."

Ashland next faces Crater at 5:45 on Wednesday at the Rrrink.

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

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