By Josh Brown
CENTERVILLE — Not being able to score with a 5-on-3 advantage hurt the Trojans.
Giving up a tie-breaking goal on a 5-on-3 disadvantage proved just as costly.
Centerville’s J.T. Maletic came out of the penalty box himself just in time to score the eventual game-winning goal with 5:17 left to play, the Elks added an insurance goal roughly two minutes later and the Trojans couldn’t cut into the game in a hectic final minute as Troy fell to Centerville in a penalty-filled first round of the Southwest Ohio High School Hockey League Tournament, 3-1 Thursday at South Metro.
With the score tied 1-1 in the second period, the Trojans failed to score on one power play, got another chance minutes later — and even had 1:33 with a 5-on-3 advantage. Troy couldn’t put together any offensive chances during the stretch, though, and with 2:39 to go in the period was hit with a five-minute major — which the Trojans eventually killed off, as well.
But when the Elks got a chance at a 5-on-3 in the third, they didn’t miss it.
“It all evens out in the end,” Troy hockey coach Phill Noll said when asked which was more costly. “It’s all bad. One is no worse than the other. We shot ourselves in the foot all night by not being able to skate with all five guys. But I was proud of the kids for killing off the five-minute major. That was big.
“Both teams just played great defense tonight — they had to, with all the penalties.”
Troy Moore drew a penalty on Centerville with 7:24 left in the third period, but the Trojans got called for one 30 seconds later — and another one 23 seconds after that. After the Elks penalty expired, Maletic skated directly to the blue line, unnoticed by the defense. Left open, he took a pass and rifled it into the corner of the net to give Centerville a 2-1 lead.
“That’s exactly what happened,” Noll said. “Their first goal, (Troy goalie) Cory (Neff) never saw. It was a deflection off of a knee or foot. Their second one was a power play goal, and it is what it is. We gave it up when we shouldn’t have. We tried to play more offense on the penalty kill than we should have.”
The Trojans had a chance to tie it soon after on an odd-man break, but Centerville goalie Robbie Hickey turned it away — and the Elks raced the puck the other direction. Garrett Grills, who scored the game-tying goal late in the first period, scored a breakaway goal with 3:11 to go to give the Elks a two-goal lead.
“That last goal snuck in on us 5 on 5. That hurt us,” Noll said.
Troy actually struck first in the game, with A.J. Noll stuffing home a loose puck with 2:37 left in the first. Grills tied it with 1:33 left in the period, and the score remained tied after two.
After the Elks took the lead in the third, the Trojans had a few more chances, the best being when Doug Eardly set up Noll for a one-timer attempt on a breakaway — but Hickey was able to turn the shot away with 1:39 to go. Centerville was called for a penalty on the play and 22 seconds later was hit with another, and Troy pulled its goalie to give the team a 6-on-3 advantage. The Elks withstood the barrage, though, and celebrated the win.
Centerville outshot Troy 15-12, and the Trojans had seven penalties to the Elks’ six.
“Both goalies stood on their heads tonight,” Noll said. “Shots that normally would have found corners for us, Hickey stopped. And Cory did a nice job on our end. They just snuck a couple in.
“This was our third time playing them We beat them once, they beat us once. We know them, they know us. We knew what this game was going to be like.”
But the Trojans have still finished the season strong, going 6-0-1 in the seven games leading up to Thursday’s — a run that began with a 7-5 victory over Centerville. Troy won four straight, as well, including a win at Talawanda that clinched the SWOHSHL Gold division’s regular season title — a run which was not diminished by Thursday’s loss.
“That’s what I told them in the locker room just now,” Noll said. “I know we lost, but we played a heck of a game for two periods. But we played an exceptional game to that point. We shouldn’t leave here holding our heads down, they should be held high. We still have next weekend to get ready for.”
The Trojans face Kilbourne at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Ice Haus in the district tournament.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.