University vs. Walsh Jesuit hockey: Persistent Preppers pepper Warriors, 5-0, in Kent semifinal

Feb. 24—KENT — There are hills in Hunting Valley that can be treacherous depending on the time of year.

This winter, arguably the most daunting is the uphill battle University presents on the ice shift after shift.

Feb. 24 in a Kent District semifinal, the Preppers were operating to an extent to which no all-wheel drive could make this uphill battle feasible.

Just ask Walsh Jesuit.

Gavin Jones and Sam Wade lit the lamp in the opening period and Ethan Roberts' early second-period tally set the trajectory for a thorough 5-0 US victory.

US junior defenseman Ryder Beegun discusses a 5-0 Kent semifinal win over Walsh Jesuit

As usual, played a key role in this 34-3 team being able to cycle the puck with the crispness that it does

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) February 24, 2024

The Preppers improved to 34-3 and will take on Shaker Heights, a 4-0 winner over Gilmour in the late semi, in the Kent District final at 7 p.m. March 1.

Against a young squad in the Warriors (9-21-2) whom US had beaten twice in the regular season handily, business was handled from the outset running three lines and three defensive pairings with efficiency.

"When the state tournament starts, there's kind of a lot of lag with the first-round bye and then getting through the tournament," Preppers coach Andy Gerow said. "So we talked about it. For the last two weeks, we had iron sharpening iron at practice. It's a credit from Sam Wade all the way down the roster. These guys just go at it during practice.

"We got the win (over Stow-Munroe Falls in a quarterfinal) and went right back to work on Wednesday. Some of those guys are winning those battles. Blue line pushes White to get better and sometimes win those. Red is doing the same thing. Green line is doing it, too. I think that's what shows is they work in practice, and it shows up out here where on any given night, anyone can step up and make things happen."

US' crisp tape-to-tape puck movement and persistence through the neutral zone translated into a 2-0 lead after one.

Jones opened the Preppers' account at 2:06 with a deep wrister from the top of the right circle.

US 1-0

Gavin Jones at 2:06

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) February 24, 2024

US went on the penalty kill, but one of the masters of the short-handed tally had a say.

At 4:54, Wade collected a puck at the edge of his neutral zone for a breakaway. The reigning News-Herald player of the year did well with a low snapper stickside for a 2-0 lead.

US 2-0

Sam Wade shorty at 4:54

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) February 24, 2024

The Preppers enjoyed a 14-5 shots advantage in the opening 15.

"The 'D' on Walsh wrapped it, and I was supporting my high guy," Jones said of his opener. "Coaches always tell us to put it in deep. Our captain (Luca Garofalo) is one of the hardest workers on the team. Sam Robinson got down there, two guys low, one guy high. I just tried to sit up high and wait for the feed.

"When all three lines are going, we're a hard team to stop. When we put up zero on the scoreboard, we can't lose, as our coach says. My guys, (Sam Robinson and Luca Garofalo), I've been playing with them for a long time now since youth. They're all getting touches. They're all getting points. We're hard to stop when we're moving."

Then in the second, Roberts slotted a banger on the crease at 3:10 to go up, 3-0, and US was well on its way.

Luke Palmer netted the fourth at 8:03 on the power play on a wrister from the left circle.

The Preppers had a 40-13 shots on-goal cushion and had the puck possession and cycle to show for it.

Now comes more business on the docket, as US hopes to continues to keep making encounters with it an uphill battle.

"Our coaches always emphasize thick skin and just keep playing," Jones said.

"Last year (losing in the state final) left a bad taste in our mouth. We want to get the job done this year."


University 5, Walsh Jesuit 0