Millard West junior forward and captain Reece Wilson skates the puck up ice into the zone against a Prep defender. As the leader on the ice, Wilson evaluates not only himself but the team as a whole. “Our problem right now is just being able to create offense,” Wilson said. “We are a great team when we play good offense because we have a great defense to back us up. Emotion-wise the morale for the team honestly wasn’t too bad, we know this was a loss but we’re going to learn from it.” Photo by Whittaker Media
Millard West junior forward and captain Reece Wilson skates the puck up ice into the zone against a Prep defender. As the leader on the ice, Wilson evaluates not only himself but the team as a whole. “Our problem right now is just being able to create offense,” Wilson said. “We are a great team when we play good offense because we have a great defense to back us up. Emotion-wise the morale for the team honestly wasn’t too bad, we know this was a loss but we’re going to learn from it.” Photo by Whittaker Media
Sam Whittaker

Jr. Jays soar past Cats

Hockey team suffers first loss of the season

On Wednesday, Jan. 24, the 13-0-5 Millard West hockey team hosted the 15-1-3 Creighton Prep Jr. Jays in a battle for first place at Baxter Arena.

In the previous meeting, these two sides exploded for seven combined goals where Millard West overcame a 3-0 deficit by scoring four unanswered goals to steal a 4-3 victory. Just like the first game of this season series, the goaltending matchup was between Prep freshman Yusef Cortez, and Millard West senior Seamus Bygrave.

Immediately the Jr. Jays were on a mission when the puck dropped. Just seconds into the game, Prep would get an extended period of time in the offensive end with a plethora of shots. Over time, the Wildcats only managed to muster very few clean exits and entries into both ends.

Just before the six-minute mark in the opening frame, Prep sophomore forward Liam Smithberg netted the first goal of the game. After receiving a pass close to the bottom of the faceoff circle, a swift move inside to the far post beat Bygrave’s diving save attempt to put the Jr. Jays up 1-0.

“Prep dominated us simply because they outskated us,” Bygrave said. “Effort lost us the game for the most part. The difference is that while we went down 2-0 in both games, we fought back hard in the first game to come back and eventually win, which is what we have to do anytime that happens, rather than allowing the game to get out of reach.”

As the period continued, the Wildcats would fail to gain the offensive zone due to shutdown defense in the neutral zone from the Jr. Jays who quickly added to their shot totals. With the sound of the buzzer to signal the end of the first period, Prep led 11-2 in shots on top of their 1-0 lead.

Just 30 seconds into the second period, a Prep tripping penalty gave the Wildcats powerplay a chance to even the game. After an initial tie-up in the faceoff circle, and a quick clear out of their defensive end, Prep would continually deny Millard West zone entries even after taking an additional too many men on the ice penalty. 

This only led to more frustration for the Cats as they would surrender a short-handed goal. After a battle along the boards, Prep senior forward Jonah Salem’s pass found the tape of junior Owen Mills who was wide-open from the slot. As a result, Mills ripped his shot perfectly past the glove hand of Bygrave in the top left corner to extend the lead to 2-0 which the Jr. Jays would take to the intermission.

“I was a little upset we lost our streak,” Wildcat senior defenseman Easton Akins said. “I’m glad it was to a good team like Prep. Next time we play them we need to stop chasing and make sure everyone plays their man.”

The Jr. Jay’s offensive domination continued into the third, as near the seven-minute mark a quick faceoff win and pass found Smithberg who wired his shot immediately to sneak past Bygrave in the blink of an eye making the score 3-0.

Creighton Prep’s final goal of the game would come only around two minutes later on the powerplay following multiple penalties by Akins. After receiving a pass, Prep sophomore defenseman Charlie Dombrowski hammered a point shot through traffic that initially hit the post and banked in.

Although Millard West had previously overcome the Jr. Jays before, the odds looked bleak with only four minutes left in the game, down 4-0.

Despite this, Millard West senior forward Kerek Heithier would continue his hot play as he dented into the Prep lead. As West junior defenseman Cole Grandgenett rounded the goalline, Heithier sat backdoor and received the pass for a quick one-timer that found the back of the net.

“My shots have improved tremendously,” Heithier said. “That’s making me score more. We were ready to play Prep the first game, the second one we were just not quite ready. We should have been more focused.”

With the final seconds ticking off the clock, Prep secured the 4-1 win handing Millard West a needed first loss of the season. With this result, the Wildcats still sit at third while Prep ties the Tri-City Jr. Storm for first place as the league heads towards the all-star break.

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About the Contributor
Sam Whittaker, Staff Reporter
Also known as the voice of Millard West Hockey, Sam is a junior at Millard West beginning his first full year on the Catalyst Staff. He spent the summer working alongside Logan Moseley for the Corn Belt League gaining valuable broadcasting experience. In his free time, Sam cheers on the Tennessee Volunteers and Nashville Predators whenever he isn’t broadcasting or photographing Millard West sports.

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