|Staff photo by Tom Kelly IV/Rustin's Brett Christie (50) scores one of his three goals.|
By BRYAN DAVIS
WEST GOSHEN -- With a roster that turned over serverely from a year ago, it has taken a little while for the West Chester Rustin ice hockey team to find its footing this season, but with time and talent, the perennial power looks poised to start a powerful stretch run.
Behind a hat trick from Brett Christie and a 12-save performance in net by Brent Millichap, the Golden Knights rolled to a 7-0 Inter-County Scholastic Hockey League Ches-Mont victory over Downingtown West at snowy Ice Line Arena on Friday afternoon.
"We had 13 seniors graduate from last year’s team and we have a lot of freshman taking their places," said Rustin coach Nick Russo. "Our goal is always to peak in March, like March Madness. Our young guys have stepped up, like Brett and Joel (Sheriko). You like to see that. It makes your job easy."
The Whippets needed a strong start to keep pace with the Knights, but they couldn’t get it. Two minutes into the game, Rustin (5-4-1, 6-4-1) cashed in on power-play chance with Max Spitola in the penalty box for interference. Christie took a pass from Armen Asdourian down low at the right side of net, stick-handled into the middle through a pair of defenders, and beat goalie Thomas Cliggett low to the left side for a 1-0 lead.
"Sometimes it just comes to me to do that stuff, but I don’t do that very often," Christie said. "But, it just came to me to do it."
His second goal, ten minutes later, came with a little less work, but much of the same artistry as the freshman was on the receiving end of a pretty rush with him, Asdourian and J.R. Barone. Christie was wide open in the left slot for Barone’s pretty feed, and made no mistake in putting the puck into the net to extend the adavantage to 2-0.
Mitchell Preuhs closed out the three-goal first with a shot from a sharp angle that seemed to surprise Cliggett, and eluded him as the Knights began to assert control over the game.
"The team that gets out of the chute and gets out early, it puts a different flow to the game," said Russo. "If you can get them on their heels right away it’s tough playing offense when you’re playing from behind."
Fellow freshman Joel Sheriko staked Rustin to a 4-0 lead by scoring midway through the second, then Barone scored to add a goal to go along with a pair of assists for a commanding 5-0 bulge after two.
Millichap did not have much work to keep him sharp, but he was huge the one time he needed to be. With the score 2-0 in the first, and Rustin on a power play, Joe DeGinto stripped the puck from a Rustin defenseman and came in alone. He moved to his backhand, but Millichap got a piece of it with his glove. Moments later, Rustin scored and kept the Whippets from gaining a toehold into the game.
"That was a big save," said Millichap. "I saw him come down the right side and I thought he was going to go right, and then I stuck my pad and glove out left and got a piece of it. It was a good win; we played a good all-around game and the defense played well."
Sheriko added his second of the night before Christie, who was stoned on three different occasions by Cliggett in his bid for the hat trick, finally completed the feat on the power play to close out the scoring as Asdourian notched his third assist on the play. The high-flying line, which has all three members in the top eight in the league in scoring, recorded 10 points on the day. Christie’s trioka now gives him 13, among the best in the C-M.
"It was hard getting that third goal," said Christie. "I got stoned a couple of times, but it came."
The Whippets (3-9-0, 3-10-0) did gain more of the play after an animated time out from first-year coach Ryan Smith, but were not able to dent the scoresheet. Despite the loss, Cliggett played well in goal, making 25 saves -- a few of standout, blue-ribbon variety.
Rustin now stands in fifth place in the C-M, 11 points behind leaders West Chester East, but the Golden Knights believe they are peaking at the right time for a playoff push.
"We came out of the holiday break real strong and hopefully, we’ll do real well in the playoffs," said Millichap. "One game at a time."
West Chester Rustin 7, Downingtown West 0
Downingtown West 0 0 0 -- 0
West Chester Rustin 3 2 2 -- 7
W.C. Rustin goals: Christie 3, Sheiko 2, Preuhs, Barone.
Goalie saves: Cliggett (DW) 25; Millichap (WCR) 12.