The rivalry between Kennett and Unionville lit a fire under the winless Indians. However, their newfound confidence wouldn't be enough as Jeff Tinkoff and the Blue Demons handled unfinished CM League business, 5-3, Monday night at Ice Line Arena.
"We knew it was a winnable game for us," said Tinkoff, who finished with three goals and pointed to a 6-1 loss to Unionville last Feb. as a point of motivation. "Especially after what happened last year, the embarrassing loss, it was good to come out with a win. That loss really motivated us tonight to come out and get this win."
On the other side, simply playing Kennett (1-1-1 league, 3-1-1 overall) was enough to carry the Indians to a new level of competitiveness.
"It gave us an extra edge and will to play better," said Unionville's leading scorer Nick Ward about playing the Demons. "It fired us up playing them."
Bullied and pressed into their own zone for much of the third period, and with the game tied at three, the Demons were holding on for dear life. That is until a hooking penalty on Unionville's Trevor Dycio gave Kennett a life line.
"We're a young team and we're trying to figure out how to finish games right now," said Ward. "As we grow, we'll find it."
Less than 30 seconds into the man advantage, Tommy Dougherty found Tinkoff behind the net. Eyeing the wrap-around the whole way, Tinkoff found an opened and pounded the puck home to break the tie and give his team the 4-3 lead.
"I got it behind the net and I knew if I could get over there quick enough, the goalie wouldn't be able to get to the post," Tinkoff said. "Luckily, I was able to jam at it enough that it got by."
The Indians (0-4, 0-5) responded by leaning on Kennett late. But despite looking desperately for the equalizer, it would prove evasive thanks to the effort of goalie Nick Schuibbeo.
"I just tried to cover it up as much as I could to give the team a breather," said Schuibbeo, who made 26 saves in the win. "Every single puck that came to me, the purpose was to get fresh guys in."
The loss was the fifth straight for the Indians. Yet, it was their best and most complete game of the season. Unionville coach Bill Hammond sees the progress of his young team but is still hoping for results.
"It still stings to lose and this is a game that we're capable of winning," said the coach. "But the kids took a nice step in the right direction today and that's the important thing. We just have to keep taking those steps, that's what it's all about.
"It's progress, it's a work in progress."
Kennett's organization in the offensive zone helped jump it out to a quick 2-0 lead with a goal at 11:25 from Zeke Maling and a picture-perfect Tinkoff deflection goal off a Jack Moore point shot at 7:12. It was the first of three for Tinkoff, who has a team-leading nine in five games. His first of the night gave the Demons an all-important early advantage.
"Tinkoff has been playing great," said Kennett assistant coach Connor Ciallella. "He's one of our horses. We're pretty shorthanded this year so he's been playing offense and defense for us. He's been a big player."
Outscored in the first period, 11-1, prior to Monday's contest, the Indians didn't flinch at the deficit. Instead, at 4:09, Unionville countered and cut Kennett's lead in half. Holding pressure in the Demon's zone, the Indians' Drew Clarke accepted a pass down low from Ward before depositing the puck easily past Schuibbeo.
It was an important counter to Kennett's dominant start.
"It was really important to get that one," said Ward. "Two-goal leads are the easiest to come back from, it's just about getting that first one."
The assist was just the start of Ward's stellar night. Kennett's Alec Della Vecchia would give his team the 3-1 advantage to start the second on a shot that beat Josh Seder from the right face-off circle. Yet, Ward would counter once again.
Cleaning up a flurry in front of the crease and following immense Unionville pressure with 7:32 left to play in the second, Ward snatched a loose puck and slammed it past the goal line to make it 3-2. Three minutes later, Ward scored again, this time from the back door off a pass from Andrew Knight to lock the game at three headed into the final stanza. Knight finished the game with three helpers.
"I was set up by both my linemates, Andrew Knight and Drew Clarke," Ward said. "I just had to put it in, I just finished."
Kennett 5, Unionville 3
Kennett 2 1 2 --5
Unionville 1 2 0 --3
Kennett goals: Tinkoff 3; Della Vecchia; Maling.
Unionville goals: Ward 2; Clarke.
Goalie saves: Schuibbeo (K) 26; Seder (U) 17.