Tornado levels Grizzlies' offense

The Ashland High hockey team never got going offensively and ultimately lost to rival North Medford, 3-2, Wednesday night at The RRRink.

North Medford junior goaltender Stephen Cole came up big, stopping 19 of Ashland's 21 shots and shutting out the Grizzlies for the final two periods.

Ashland junior assistant captain Josh McLaughlin said his team just didn't have the spark necessary to get the win.

"For a while we had a lot of opportunities when we were passing the puck around, but then we just kind of got beat to the puck," McLaughlin said. "Gotta be aggressive, gotta skate hard and I don't think we had that tonight."

A pair of first period power play goals was all the offense Ashland could muster.

Ashland junior Casey Skolnik, who leads the league in points, broke the seal midway through the first. He caught a long pass in to the neutral zone from senior captain Stephan McLaughlin and worked his way into North's end while working around a pair of Tornado defenders. He drove to the right post and snuck his shot over Cole's shoulder for the 1-0 Ashland lead.

On another Ashland power play about five minutes later, North's Trevor Heinsohn evened the score. Heinsohn took a pass from freshman Cody Chiverton in his own zone and out-skated everyone to the goal. He beat Ashland goalie Kyle Smelcer low on the breakaway for the short-handed tally and a 1-1 tie.

The Grizzlies struck back only 37 seconds later when senior Jack Rasmussen scored on the same power play. Josh McLaughlin found Rasmussen with a pinpoint cross-ice pass near the faceoff dot to Cole's left. Rasmussen sent a wrist shot past the keeper for the 2-1 Ashland lead.

Ashland had a golden opportunity to add a third goal in the closing seconds of the first period when Skolnik, Lewis Sebrell and Stephan McLaughlin attacked on a 3-on-1. But the Black Tornado defender broke up a pass from Sebrell to thwart the scoring chance and go to intermission 2-1.

Midway through the second period, North Medford got lucky. North's Chiverton sent a slap shot toward Smelcer from just outside the Ashland blue line while he was being hit. The puck slipped through Smelcer to knot the contest.

The Black Tornado got another good bounce with just over a minute left in the second when junior Nolan Robbins found a bouncing puck on his stick in the slot. His wrist shot beat Smelcer's glove and North had all they would need with the 3-2 lead through two periods.

Between periods Ashland coach Chris Bonelli, who declined to comment after the game, told his team that it needed to be more physical. Josh McLaughlin said his coach's words were heeded.

"In the first two periods they were playing a lot more physical than us," McLaughlin said. "We had to not be pushed around, which I think we did a good job of in the third period."

The Grizzlies did pick up the physical play in the final stanza, but they paid a steep price as they racked up 28 of their 32 penalty minutes in the third.

Checking from behind penalties on Skolnik and junior Mathias Dean left the Grizzlies short-handed and without two of their stronger players for the remainder of the contest. The fouls also forced the Grizzlies to focus on defense the rest of the way just to stay close. Ashland managed only three shots in the scoreless third period and could not avoid it's second loss in as many nights.

The Grizzlies out-shot North 21-11. Ashland doubled North's 16 penalty minutes.

Next up for the Grizzlies is league-leading South Medford, which handed Ashland the Tuesday night loss. Josh McLaughlin thinks his team will come out hungry in the rematch Saturday night.

"It was a really tough game," McLaughlin said. "We lost 3-1, but I think after this we're really looking for a win. I think we're gonna work really hard in practice to make sure we come (out) on top."

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

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