BROOKLYN, Ohio – Rocky River built a 2-0 lead, yielded a score and then survived a tremendous stretch of all-or-nothing hockey in a 2-1 win over Shaker Heights in the title game of the 2018 Baron Cup tournament.
Pirate goals by senior Ted Stueber and freshman Hayden Weaver – both assisted by senior defenseman Frankie Lord – were enough to lift the Maroon & White to victory in the 48th renewal of the tournament that crowns the champion of the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League. The victory at the John M. Coyne Recreation Center closed out three wins in four days – River advanced to the Baron Cup final with victories over Midview and Strongsville.
The victory marked Rocky River’s eighth Baron Cup championship. And it marked the Pirates’ seventh straight win this season. And it marked a measure of retribution against a team that had apparently had the Pirates’ number: the Red Raiders (23-7-1) had beaten River once in December and once more in January. And five times over the last seven the two GCHSHL Red North rivals had met. So, the opening minutes of Sunday’s game were not a surprise.
Shaker Heights maintained significant possession time in the early minutes of the game. Both teams were tagged with two penalties in what was a scoreless first frame that saw Shaker Heights outshoot Rocky River, 9-4.
The action loosened up a bit in a back-and-forth second frame which saw quality chances at both ends of the ice. And senior goaltender Ryan Dunning saw quite a few chances off Shaker sticks mere feet in front of his crease. Dunning made two big saves early in the period, and then came up with multiple pucks in traffic late in the period. In between, the River offense helped their veteran netminder.
Senior captain Ted Stueber was on the eventual receiving end of his own offensive-zone faceoff win at 6:22, and the lanky center potted his 35th of the year to lift the Pirates (21-10) to a 1-0 lead. Eddie Zuercher and Frankie Lord controlled the puck off the faceoff and were in on the goal.
Three minutes later freshman winger Hayden Weaver scored his eighth of the season to push the Rocky River lead to 2-0. Lord set up goal No. 2 with a lengthy cross-ice pass to Danny Asmar who ticked the puck to Weaver who was hurtling up the ice with speed. And Weaver slipped a shot past senior Shaker goaltender Owen Tafe.
Two goals in three minutes. From both ends of the roster, age-wise. And after a well-played, nine-shots-a-side period, the Pirates had themselves a 2-0 lead.
But the two-goal cushion didn’t come with much of a shelf life. At the 9:40-mark of the third, Shaker’s D.C. Benincasa was the recipient of a puck in the offensive zone – with some room to operate – after a failed Pirate clear up the right boards. Benincasa scored to cut the River lead in half.
The final 670 seconds of play were comprised of perhaps 500 quick decisions made by players in both jerseys. Maybe 1,000 or more. Snap decisions at each blue line, tape-to-tape passes, deflections by alert defensemen, and cat-like reflexes on display in both cages. It amounted to nine minutes-and-40 seconds of excellent hockey.
Hockey worthy of the pursuit of a 48-year-old gold cup. Cup-worthy hockey, but not without an infraction or two. Both sides were whistled for multiple penalties over the final 9:40.
But in the late stages, Rocky River was up to the task of preserving the slimmest of leads in a game loaded with talented players making plays on both sides. The Pirates were particularly strong at both blue lines, being hard on the puck — getting it deep into the corners on offense, chipping it out, negating Shaker possessions on defense.
Dunning would come up with eight saves in the final frame. The defense in front of him withstood a six-man charge late, when the Red Raiders pulled their goaltender. Nolan Weaver laid out for a key blocked shot with the defense under pressure at the one-minute mark. Twenty seconds later, Weaver hustled his way into position and thwarted an attempted Red Raider exit from their own zone. Ted Stueber won a big defensive-zone faceoff with 20 seconds remaining, and it was Weaver (again!) who would hold off three Shaker players, possessing puck 200 feet from the River goal as the precious final seconds ticked off the clock.
(Technically, two Weavers were available. One was actually in the game. But it seemed like at least three Weavers were on the ice in that final minute.)
Pinned against the boards and pestered by the trio of Raiders, Weaver did not yield. And then the clock winked down to triple-zeroes. The buzzer sounded and Weaver was free.
Free to raise his arms in the air while racing toward his teammates.
River’s 2-0 lead hadn’t had much of a shelf life. The 2-1 lead was something different entirely. The 2-1 lead would hold for nine minutes-and-40 seconds … and 365 days.
Because the Baron Cup is headed for a shelf life of one year — a shelf in a trophy case, in the proud possession of the Rocky River Pirates.
CANNON FIRE …
PUCK POINTS: Shaker outshot River, 9-7, in the third period and 27-20 for the game. Sunday’s contest marks the first time in nine games the Pirates have been outshot. … The Pirates went 0-for-5 on the powerplay while killing off each of three extra-man situations for the Red Raiders. … Eight different players scored goals for the Pirates over their three Baron Cup games. … Scoring multiple goals in the second on Sunday was nothing new for Rocky River. Over their seven-game win streak, the Pirates have potted 2.71 goals per game in the second. On the season, the second has been River’s busiest frame, netting 50 goals. … Ted Stueber tallied five goals during the Baron Cup tournament and has now scored a point in 12 straight games.
CUP RUNNETH OVER: Sunday’s title marked Rocky River’s third Baron Cup I crown (2014, 2015, 2018) and its eighth overall – RR won Baron Cup II titles in 1991, 1992, 1997, 2009, and 2010.
SEEING RED: The All-GCHSHL Red League Team was announced prior to Sunday’s contest. River senior netminder Ryan Dunning and senior center Ted Stueber were recognized as First Teamers. … During the postgame ceremony, right winger Ben Brej was tabbed for the Baron Cup’s sportsmanship award.
BARON BRACKET-BUSTERS: Elsewhere in Sunday’s Baron Cup action, Avon Lake whipped Normandy, 8-1, to capture Baron Cup III. Amherst Steele nipped Olmsted Falls, 5-4, in Baron Cup II.
BACK TO BROOKLYN: Rocky River will return to the ice surface at the John M. Coyne Recreation Center on Saturday when the Pirates play a district tournament game (5 p.m. vs. Padua-North Olmsted winner). And that should be just fine with Head Coach Chris Cogan & company: River is 25-8 at the facility since 2012.
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