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Prep boys hockey: Grand Rapids controls puck, CEC

Thunderhawks advance to Section 7AA title game with dominating performance.

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GRAND RAPIDS — Time of possession is not a statistic kept in hockey games.

If it was, Grand Rapids might lead the state in puck possession.

The top-seeded Thunderhawks controlled the puck throughout their 4-0 victory over Cloquet-Esko-Carlton on Saturday in a Section 7AA boys semifinal at IRA Civic Center.

“When our team has puck control, I don’t think there’s another team that can stop us,” senior forward Braeden Holcomb said.

Fifth-ranked Grand Rapids (15-1-1) will put that to the test Wednesday when it hosts No. 6 Andover (17-2-1) in the section title game. A spot in the Class AA state tournament will be on the line.

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“It’s going to be a barnburner,” Thunderhawks coach Wade Chiodo said. “It’s going to come down to who makes fewer mistakes on the ice. They are a fast team with depth. It’s going to be a fun game for our kids and we’re ready.”

Grand Rapids was ready from the drop of the puck Saturday against an overmatched CEC team that already had lost 6-0 and 6-1 to the Thunderhawks during the regular season.

The Lumberjacks (11-8-1) tightened up defensively and were poised to let Grand Rapids take target practice at goaltender Zach Tyman. The Thunderhawks outshot CEC 49-6 overall, recording the first 20 shots on net. CEC didn’t get a shot at Grand Rapids senior goalie Wyatt Pilkenton until 2 minutes, 40 seconds into the second period.

By that time, Hunter Bischoff had broken a scoreless deadlock by backhanding in his own rebound 1:58 into the second.

“It took until the second period to put one in, but we knew they had a good goalie and that we had to keep getting shots on net,” said Grand Rapids senior defenseman Jack Peart, who was chosen Friday as a Mr. Hockey finalist.

Peart, the talisman of the puck-control brigade, added to his team-leading scoring total by weaving around a CEC player deep into the zone and spying an open teammate out front. Holcomb handled Peart’s snap pass to make it 2-0 at 10:12 of the second.

“That was a beautiful pass from Jack,” Holcomb said. “When he (drives deep into the zone), he creates space and is fun to play with.”

Chiodo has seen his veteran defenseman do that countless times this season.

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“When he gets down low, he can see the whole ice,” Chiodo said. “I had a perfect angle on it and he threaded that puck, and it even caught Braeden by surprise.”

Joey DelGreco made it 3-0 with 48 seconds left in the second when he pounced on a rebound off Tyman’s blocker on a Peart drive.

Grand Rapids owned a 32-4 edge in shots on goal by that point.

“I thought we were good in all three zones,” Chiodo said. “We didn’t give up much, they maybe had two (quality) chances the whole game. Cloquet clogged it up pretty good and made us work for our goals … but this time of year all that matters is to get the ‘W’.”

Peart tacked on an empty-net goal with 60 seconds to play to wrap up another dominating period, one where the puck rarely entered the Grand Rapids zone.

“When we keep a third guy high, we can control any game,” Peart said. “That’s what we did better in the second and third.”

One more win and Grand Rapids will be able to celebrate a 17th trip to the state tournament and first since winning a fourth state title in 2017.

“It’ll be a good game (against Andover), and we’re lucky it’s in our home barn so we’ll have home-ice advantage,” Peart said.
It’s a good bet the Thunderhawks will have the time of possession advantage as well.

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Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 0-0-0—0

Grand Rapids 0-3-1—4

First period — No scoring.

Second period — 1. Hunter Bischoff (John Bonner, Braeden Holcomb), 1:58; 2. Holcomb (Jack Peart, Sam Sterle), 10:12; 3. Joey DelGreco (Peart, Easton Young), 16:12.

Third period — 4. Peart, 16:00 (en)

Saves — Zach Tyman, CEC, 45; Wyatt Pilkenton, GR, 6.

Related Topics: HOCKEY
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