Behind a four-goal second period and some lights-out goal tending from Anthony Willis, the Lions posted a 6-3 win over their St. Charles Division foe in a Mid-States Club Hockey match up on Tuesday at Rec-Plex South in St. Peters.
“It’s only the third or fourth game back with our whole team and I feel like we’re finally making a playoff push and we’re finally starting to hit our stride,” Zumwalt East coach Denny Klaesner said.
Zumwalt East (9-4-5) despite being out shot most of the first period held a 2-1 lead at the end of the first period.
Cade Roberts, who scored two goals on the night, popped in a goal to make it 3-1 with 5:51 left to go in the second period. The Lions scored three more goals in the final six minutes of the period and had a commanding 6-1 lead after two periods. Robert Bross was also big with the puck, knocking in a pair of goals.
Two of the early goals were short-handed ones that helped the Lions gain control. “Anytime you can get a short-handed goal, that’s a big momentum boost and that can kind of turn the tide,” Klaesner said.
It also didn’t hurt the Lions to have a huge effort in goal from Willis. Willis was strong from the start as he stopped 36 shots.
“I think it was just a great overall team effort and we just push each other out there,” Willis said. “There was no selfish play and everyone just played for each other.”
Zumwalt East finishes its regular season on Friday against Ladue, on a roll with a three-game win-streak.
The game did not go the way the Pioneers (11-7-1) would have liked, but that mattered little after the emotional sight of seeing their coach in the rink and on the bench for the start of the game.
Rupp, who is recovering from the removal of cancer-causing tumors from his stomach in early January, was given an enthusiastic round of applause from the fans and players alike as he entered the Duchesne bench at the start of the game.
“We didn’t know he was going to be back (tonight) so it was a real confidence boost to see him out there,” Pioneer senior frontliner Rhys McKnight said. “It would have been better to get a better result, but it was good seeing him out there.”
“It’s a win for the kids, seeing coach back,” said assistant coach Dan Burke, who has been filling in for Rupp in his absence.
Rupp, is hoping to be back on the bench in time for the playoffs in the next two weeks.
His club will be ready to go when he gets back. His appearance made the night perfect for Duchesne.
“Hopefully everything is good to go now,” said Burke. “Hopefully, we will have him full-time on the bench here in the next couple of weeks.”
McKnight paced the Pioneers with two goals.