Olentangy Orange High School hockey coach Tim Pennington liked the result on the scoreboard, but he wasn't happy with his team's performance.
The Pioneers defeated Liberty 1-0 in the first round of the Thomas Worthington MLK Tournament on Jan. 18 at Chiller North, marking their second win in as many meetings this season. They also beat the Patriots in Capital Hockey Conference play, winning 2-1 in overtime Jan. 4.
"We won, but I believe (Liberty) played harder than we did," said Pennington, whose team was 23-4 overall after defeating Painesville Riverside 5-1 on Jan. 21, the final day of the MLK event. "Our kids need an entire team effort to win. We are a team that has to work hard and play hard."
Orange has won consecutive games before playing Painesville Riverside on Jan. 21. Among the key contributors during the winning streak was senior goaltender Clay Horvath, who had 25 saves in the shutout against Liberty.
"Clay loves big games like this (game against Liberty)," Pennington said. "He is the true backbone of our team."
The Pioneers scored the game's only goal with 3 minutes, 51 seconds left in the second period, when junior forward Evan Gutkoski displayed good hand-eye coordination by hitting the puck out of the air past Liberty goalie Cam Perry.
"I just tried to put the puck on the stick and I was able to get it in the back of the net," Gutkoski said. "This is a big rivalry game and it's good to get a goal in a game like this."
Liberty played the contest without its top two scorers in junior forward Chris Berga-mesca, who had 24 goals and 27 assists through 26 games, and sophomore forward Brock Rumbaugh, who had 27 goals and 15 assists. Rumbaugh was ejected from a 2-all tie with Dublin Jerome on Jan. 12 and Bergamesca was ejected from a 3-0 win over Upper Arlington on Jan. 13. Both ejections drew an automatic two-game suspension.
"It's tough to play a game like this without your snipers," said Liberty coach Jack Hoogeveen, whose team was 16-4-5-1 overall after losing to Findlay 5-3 on Jan. 21 in the MLK Tournament. "But you have to give (the Pioneers) credit because they came out and did what they needed to win.
"We brought up four (junior varsity) players for this game and they played well for us. This was a tough game and they came out and held their own."
All four of the j.v. players -- junior Grant Reeves and freshmen Andrew Bull, Ethan Flemming and Eli Koivisto -- are forwards.
Another freshman, Perry, came up big against Orange despite the fact that the Patriots lost.
"Cam has been playing well beyond our expectations," said Hoogeveen, whose team was ranked seventh in the state poll last week behind top-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius. "He has kept us in every game that he's been in goal."
Orange and Liberty lead their respective divisions of the CHC. The Patriots, who were ranked first in the area coaches poll last week ahead of No. 2 Jerome, are first in the CHC-Red at 10-0-1-1 (22 points), ahead of Jerome (9-1-2, 20), Cincinnati Moeller (8-3-0-1, 17), Dublin Coffman (8-4, 16) and UA (5-7-1, 11).
Orange, which was third in the area coaches poll last week, sits atop the CHC-White at 10-1 (20), ahead of St. Charles (7-3-0-1, 15), DeSales (4-6-1-1, 10) and Thomas Worthington (3-8-1, 7).
Braves place fourth in MLK tourney
Olentangy lost to Troy 6-4 on Jan. 20 in the third-place game in the Red Division of the Thomas Worthington MLK Tournament to finish fourth.
"Playing for third place means a lot to these guys because we have come a long way," coach Mazin Habash said. "The upperclassmen have taken ownership of this team and they have bought into what we want to do. We have great team chemistry right now."
Evidence of a turnaround can be found in the Braves' last three meetings against Thomas. They lost to the Cardinals 9-1 on Nov. 23 but defeated them 6-3 in league play Jan. 13 and beat them 4-3 in a shootout in pool play of the MLK tournament Jan. 19.
"We've been getting great play from seniors like (forward) Ross Orsini, (forward) Casey Stanley, (defenseman) Drew Woitovich and junior (forward) Dylan Ahonen has been playing as hard as anyone," Habash said. "Players on all three lines are learning their roles and playing as a team.
"And (goalies) Jake Fox and Ryan Dop have played well for us. We have been battling injuries and illness like everyone else, but those guys have been steady."
Olentangy (3-11, 6) is tied with Watterson (3-8, 6) for fourth in the CHC-Blue behind Gahanna (5-4-0-2, 12) and Worthington Kilbourne (5-6, 10) and ahead of Scioto (0-12, 0).